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Committee for Geelong's Weekly Addy Opinion Piece - Too many chiefs

Towards the end of 2016, the Committee for Geelong hosted Dr Glenn Dubois, Chancellor of the Virginia Community College System (VCCS), United States, as part of our International Speaker Series: USA Chapter.

Glenn became Chancellor of VCCS in July 2001, serving as CEO of the 23-college, 40-campus system of comprehensive community colleges.  The Committee met Glenn during our 2015 trade mission to the USA as part of our efforts to develop international links to benefit Geelong. Glenn agreed to visit Geelong and share his insights about what our city can learn from America's skilled workforce shortage. During his visit, Glenn met with representatives from The Gordon, Deakin University and Tribal Campus.  He also addressed a large audience at an event hosted in partnership with the City of Greater Geelong.

The messages Glenn shared really made people sit up and take notice. Effectively, he was smashing down beliefs that have been tightly held for decades about post-secondary education and the road to the middle class.

In Virginia - much like here - people have long held the belief that a university degree is a guaranteed pathway to secure employment and a comfortable existence; the American Dream.

According to Glenn, bachelor degrees have been oversold as the pathway to the middle class with some limited exceptions, such as engineering: "Virginia faces the '1-2-7 phenomenon'. For every job that requires an advanced degree (think senior design engineer, CEO), that role will need support by two undergraduate degrees (think accounting, IT) and these positions will need support by seven middle skilled positions (think truck driver, electrician, administrative assistant)" Glenn said.

"We can get plenty of the ONE or the TWO - but we can't find enough of the SEVEN; we can't find them locally and we can't import them.  The hardest job to fill in the hi-tech hub of Northern Virginia is a certified electrician. I waited three weeks for an electrician to undertake work in my home. The work took half a day and he charged USD$3,000 - that's more than my lawyer charges!"

As a result of the skills shortage, the Commonwealth of Virginia has made an historic change to the way it funds VCCS.  Colleges have now started offering four-month courses preparing students for their truck driver's licence, electrician's certificate or plumbing registration. They are targeting 30-50 year olds - some of them bachelor degree qualified - who are stuck in three part-time jobs that are getting them nowhere.

The Committee's international research Winning from Second reinforces that providing a range of education choice, particularly in areas of specialisation, is important to a city's success - especially as variety provides job opportunities and employment growth.  As Geelong transforms, it is vital that our city explores the gaps in areas of specialisation that could provide provision of greater educational opportunities and choice.  This might also include a better understanding of the pathways available for individuals, both university to TAFE and TAFE to university, to better skill our own workforce.



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