By James A. Mitchell
Educators know how to teach, but they also know it’s wise to ask the experts before updating curriculum and course offerings when training tomorrow’s workforce.
“The most important thing we do is listen to local employers,” said James Sawyer, vice president and provost of Macomb Community College’s Learning Unit. “For example, there’s a new program we put into play – digital sculpting – which was something that General Motors had reached out to us about when they had difficulty finding workers.”
The course, which combines development and auto design with cutting-edge digital tools, hadn’t been offered before because the technology hadn’t existed. Sawyer said the merging of 3-D imaging with traditional clay modeling was only one of a growing number of programs launched in response to industry needs.
“This past spring we went through a major curriculum revision in IT programs,” Sawyer said. “It’s something we do on a regular basis but the IT field is constantly evolving.”
In addition to a subject’s fundamental lessons, community colleges respond to employer’s needs for credentials ranging from course certificates to associate and bachelor degrees.
“Many employers are asking for four-year degrees as well,” Sawyer said. “We’re trying to create those bridges with the first two years of IT at Macomb and then a four-year degree”
High-tech jobs require a higher level of education, but two-year colleges work with industry experts to provide the bridge between high school and advanced study. The growing synergy between IT and the auto industry with connected vehicles has produced a greater than ever need for engineers with digital savvy, and instructors who know how to teach them.
“Our role is to prepare the technicians and get them ready for a university campus,” said Alan Lecz, director of the Advanced Transportation Center at Washtenaw Community College. “With the whole communications network and technology, some of the faculty have taken professional courses in connected vehicle technology.”
Sawyer said Macomb continues to explore other fields that are placing increased emphasis on credentials. Macomb is currently preparing a certificate course for the fashion industry in response to industry needs. College officials meet with employers several times a year, he said, which result in curriculum adjustments both short- and long-term.
“A curriculum change can be done in a matter of months,” Sawyer said of introducing new classes. “Entirely new programs can take up to a year. It can be challenging.”
What hasn’t changed, he said, is the college’s mission of keeping a pipeline between education and industry open and on pace with ever-changing technology while maintain tried-and-true basics.
“We provide that conduit between the jobs that are out there and the education required,” Sawyer said. “Students still need to think independently, learn problem-solving and teamwork. Those are expectations that employers still have.”