Tomorrow’s Talent

Skills for 21st Century Manufacturing

In his 2015 State of the Union speech, the President announced a proposal to make America’s community colleges tuition free. The proposal is modeled after the new Tennessee Promise scholarship and mentoring program.[1] Applications are available now for students intending to enroll in a qualified Tennessee associate degree granting institution for the Fall 2015 term. Manufacturers of all sizes are aware that community colleges have a vital role in workforce training. Certainly, one would expect that free tuition will lead to more students, hence to more people with more knowledge and skills.

Dreamstime Community College Word CloudTennessee Promise is a Tennessee state program, designed with Tennessee’s local realities in mind. If Tennessee can offer such a program, it would seem that other states could follow suit with programs tailored to their own local realities. There are a lot of good ideas to emulate within America’s 1,000 – odd community colleges.[2] It is not immediately clear how generalizing Tennessee Promise to make it a Federal program really helps, except that the IRS would collect the requisite revenues, rather than the states individually. The money has to come from somewhere – federal, state and/or local. Tennessee Promise, for example, draws on Tennessee lottery funds.

In my view, the President’s proposal to establish a Federal program misses an important opportunity. The opportunity lies in considering America’s entire educational system as just that – a system. For such a system, outputs from the system as a whole are of primary importance. Optimizing components of such a system (such as community colleges) individually may not, and usually don’t, optimize the outputs of the system as a whole. This means that national objectives[3] for educational attainment should be set, and the role of each component (primary, secondary, community colleges, four year colleges, research universities) in achieving each objective should be considered, as should interactions between components.

Here are some rather obvious examples:

>> High schools need to adequately prepare their students for post – secondary work. Institutions at both levels need a clear understanding as to what “adequate” means.

>> Community colleges and four – year institutions need processes for seamless transfer of community college graduates into four year programs, without loss of credits.

>> High schools and community colleges need to prepare students for local as well as national opportunities.

>> Universal understandings for acceptance of high school AP (advanced placement) credits toward 2 or 4 year degrees need be established.

>> The life-long nature of 21st century education needs to be appreciated at all levels.

>> There are many more.

In summary, America and its institutions, including manufacturers, need more trained people. At the same time, too many young people need real career opportunities. The President’s proposal should be taken seriously and debated constructively. Consideration of the President’s proposal should be in context of work in Congress on primary and secondary education, as well as in context of the present student debt crisis.

Chuck - France 2012-4Your thoughtful comments on the President’s proposal and on workforce training for manufacturing in the 21st century are appreciated.

…  Chuck Harrington


P.S: Contact me when your organization is serious about pursuing Sustainability … CH

This blog and associated website ( are intended as a resource for smaller manufacturers in the pursuit of Sustainability. While editorial focus is on smaller manufacturers, all interested readers are welcome. New blog posts are published weekly.

Word cloud image: © Robwilson39 | Dreamstime.comCommunity College Photo

[1] For more on Tennessee Promise, see:

[2] For more on America’s community colleges, see:

[3] Tennessee’s objectives — which include (a) 55% of Tennessee’s students earn associate or higher degrees by 2025 and (b) Tuition – free post secondary education available to all resident high school graduates, beginning in 2015 – offer examples to start with. The No Labels Foundation’s Just the Facts, published by Diversion Books (2014) provides a useful discussion of national educational objectives.