Yesterday Congressman James Langevin met with local technology leaders at the New England Institute of Technology’s new campus in East Greenwich to discuss President Obama’s State of the Union Address and promote technology training.
Langevin honed in on Obama’s point about partnerships between educational institutes and professional organizations, citing the link as the key to economic growth.
Obama said he is looking to “train 2 million Americans with skills that will lead directly to a job.”
Though Langevin isn’t sure how many that would translate to in Rhode Island, he said he is hopeful to see “as many people as possible” receive necessary education.
Currently, some of the hottest and fastest expanding industries are those in the information technology sector.
Langevin, who has targeted cyber security and its importance to the country’s security and economy, said that closing the skill gap in information technology is an essential issue the country, and especially Rhode Island, must focus on.
“I am disappointed when I hear we have job openings but can’t find people from Rhode Island,” said Langevin. “We need to beef up our efforts to close the skill gap.”
Langevin quoted Obama’s speech, noting that we have twice as many technology job openings throughout the country as we do skilled workers.
Steve Kitchin, vice president of corporate education and training at NEIT, said that they have always sought to teach their students curriculum that will lead to gainful employment.
“That is our mission,” he said. “It always has been and we will continue to remain true to that.”
Don Nokes, owner of NetCynergy in Warwick, and John Paige, senior product test supervisor for Astro-Med in West Warwick, both attested to the value of an institution like NEIT.
“One third of my tech team are graduates or current students of NEIT,” said Nokes.
But Nokes and Paige say that they can still use more help, and often have trouble finding it.
“Where are they?” asked Nokes of qualified computer technicians and engineers. “Where do they go?”
Kitchin said he doesn’t think graduates are leaving the state; there just aren’t enough young people entering the field to begin with.
Langevin, Nokes and Paige agreed that something must be done with students before college to guide them down the correct career path.
Nokes told the story of one of his current employees, who holds a degree in foreign religious studies. During his time at college, he often helped his friends with their information technology needs, and acquired the skill set he uses today at NetCynergy. Nokes laughed and said he hasn’t put his employee’s knowledge of foreign religion to work yet.
Nokes thinks that high school guidance counselors should be mapping students’ skills, personalities and passions with what careers are gainful and realistic.
“We have to be a little more pragmatic, I think,” he said. “Pick a career path and spend your money [on college] so that you are able to make more money than you would have otherwise.”
“How much exposure did we have [in high school] to higher education pursuits based on real world opportunities?” he asked the gathered crowd yesterday.
Those present nodded their heads in agreement as if to say, “none.”
“[Students] are coming here [to NEIT] with a dream,” he said. “But too many times they make decisions about their post-secondary education without the knowledge of career opportunities.”
Nokes noted that his employee has wracked up a considerable amount of college debt that will be difficult for him to pay off. He hopes that by addressing students’ goals and aspirations at a younger age, more will choose an educational path that will lead them to a valuable career. However, he knows that might not be the current case for many college graduates.
“I’m afraid this individual I pointed out is not that rare,” said Nokes.
Both Nokes and Paige said that their employees often have to undergo additional training to meet the demands of their new positions. Nokes said NetCenergy spends roughly $30,000 a year on training for new hires.
Nokes and Paige said special programs, grants and scholarships can help to offset the cost of classes and training for individuals who maintain high marks at their institution of choice.
“Our best investment is in our educational system and in our young people,” said Langevin. “We can help to grow the 21st century economy for years to come.”