Higher Education: Educators and Sudents Consider the Jobs of Tomorrow

Biomedical engineers, network systems analysts and home health aides are the careers expected to grow at the greatest rate in the next decade, according to federal labor statistics.

Where do these jobs match up with the opportunities offered by educators in the Capital Region? Will the "brain drain" that state legislators lament continue in the coming years?

Local leaders in business and education say the increasing expansion of technically based programs will provide the talent to fill tomorrow’s jobs.

The future of two-year degrees

"Jobs requiring at least an associate’s degree are projected to grow twice as fast as jobs requiring no college experience," President Barack Obama said in September during a visit to Hudson Valley Community College. "We will not fill those jobs, or keep those jobs here in America, without graduating more students, including millions more students from community colleges."

Institutions that grant two-year degrees are adapting to the needs of the business community to produce workers for those future jobs.

HVCC started an insurance program after local professionals advised administrators that many agents would soon be retiring.

“They had no mechanism to bring people into the field,” HVCC President Drew Matonak said. “We respond pretty quickly to industry needs.”

Most future jobs will only require an associate’s degree or comparable training, according to James Ross, a state Department of Labor analyst for the Capital Region.

“Manufacturing used to be an industry full of high school grads or even dropouts,” Ross said. “Skill requirements have grown dramatically.”

The Capital Region is expected to have the largest increase in the areas of education and training, health care practitioners and construction workers. Even in these fields, a technical background is vital.

Local educators will be expected to teach the skills needed for advanced technical degrees as early as high school. Medical professionals will need to keep up with the demands of new equipment. Construction workers will have to work with new materials to build high-tech facilities.

This semester, HVCC began offering programs in alternative energy at the newly built TEC-SMART facility in Malta. The facility itself acts as a teaching tool for students, drawing its electricity from photovoltaic and geothermal cells. The school has partnered with General Electric’s wind energy division to train future technicians.

“We provide a continuum,” Matonak said. “A graduate might start as a technician, and then maybe get an advanced degree.”

For those graduates choosing to continue their education, the Capital Region is at the vanguard of technical advanced degree programs.

Tech Valley connections

The region is expected to flourish with opportunities in high-tech careers with construction of GlobalFoundries’ “Fab 8” computer chip factory in Malta and accessibility to technical programs at institutions like Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and the University at Albany’s College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering.

Local industry professionals increase their technical capabilities in anticipation of future high-tech construction through non-degree programs offered by the College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering at the Watervliet Arsenal.

This month M+W Group, a nanofabrication company building the “Fab 8” plant, announced it is moving corporate headquarters from Texas to the Watervliet Arsenal. The move is expected to bring 250 new jobs to the area over five years.

UAlbany’s College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering has partnered with a range of professional and medical institutions to introduce advanced degree graduates to many locally emerging career paths.

“We have a strong focus on applying nanotech to health applications,” said Robert Geer, vice president of CNSE academic affairs.

New technical positions working with diagnostic implants and nano-toxicity sensors are already being filled by recent grads.

“Ph.D. and master’s degree recipients are getting ready to emerge to a tremendous demand,” Geer said.

The skills to pay the bills

“A computer is just a tool, like a hammer,” said Joseph Dalton, president of the Saratoga County Chamber of Commerce. “You should know the weight and what it’s used for, but not everyone is expected to use every hammer ever created.”

Last year, Dalton and county officials met with representatives from 10 high-tech companies that were contemplating a move to the area. After that meeting, local officials asked the companies to review the curriculum of the Ballston Spa School District for potential changes.

Of the eight companies that provided analyses, half said their biggest problem was that it appeared graduates wouldn’t know how to communicate effectively or work in a team setting. Personal communication skills are important no matter where you work.

Local career counselors agree that learning life skills to start on a career path and find a rewarding career are two of the most important qualities graduates must possess.

Noah Simon, UAlbany’s Career Services assistant director, noted that of the companies with which he interacts while organizing job fairs, 50 percent to 75 percent are recruiting from all majors.

“There are a lot of students in liberal arts majors who might find themselves in a field that is more technical, and vice versa,” Simon said.

The trickling effect

“Most students don’t really want to work where they went to school unless they went in Boston or New York,” said Bob Soules, director of Union College’s Becker Career Center.

But this is a region making a concerted effort to offer education and job opportunities to longtime residents as well as to relocated students.

“The local job market is in a unique transition that is adding new high-tech opportunities to the already strong service and government employment base,” said Tom Tarantelli, RPI’s Career Development Center director.

“As these areas grow together, they will create new opportunities not only in their respective sectors but for other areas such as housing and development,” he said.

In 2008, local educators produced a study titled, “Understanding the Brain-Drain from the Capital District of New York State.” In it, authors listed lack of employment and cultural opportunities as the top reasons recent graduates were leaving the area.

Since then, “Tech Valley” has become the perceived label of the area many in business and government are hoping will retain the talented graduates its institutions produce.

“I think the results probably wouldn’t change a whole lot (in the two years since),” said John M. Polimeni, co-author of the 2008 report and Albany College of Pharmacy economics professor. “The jobs that do come, people come with them or people will move back to the area.”

If the market for local tech jobs grows as expected, general employment will grow to meet the needs of a better quality of living, spurring job creation.

“It’s a trickling effect,” Polimeni said. “If you have a large number of new people moving in with high salaries, they’re going to demand these products and increase jobs on lower levels.”

THE SARATOGIAN

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