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Infrastructure construction skills in high demand

A recent article in the Hechinger Report details the difficulty that the construction sector has in finding employees. I’m not talking about residential home construction – but I’m sure they’re lacking for workers, too. I’m talking about bridge builders, road pavers, wind-and-solar techs, telecommunications and water infrastructure builders. Community colleges are natural places for employers to look. But that assumes that community colleges are investing in infrastructure construction programs.

With the President pushing hard for infrastructure construction, schools that have these programs can graduate more students and place them with employers. Interest in alternative energy installation and maintenance is especially high.

Starting up a program to generate these graduates isn’t supremely easy, but community colleges can develop programs that deliver the right skill set. Workers in these fields are in high demand, and the salaries can be substantial. Offering these programs requires the foresight to recognize community needs and develop programs that address them.

That might be hard to do for an administration that focuses on generating revenue outside of its mission. Being distracted by “other revenue” can make it tough to see the opportunities right in front of them.

It also raises the question of why the Board of Trustees would take on loan debts and repay them from operating funds for low margin “revenue opportunities.” Instead of meeting the needs of the community and its employers, the College is literally using taxpayer funds to chase spare change.

Why is it important for the College to spend extraordinary sums of money intended for the education of low- and middle-income students on buildings and activities that:

  • generate only mediocre returns?
  • require enormous, continuous capital investment?
  • are unrelated to WCC’s mission?

Investing in students generates a better return

This risky strategy most closely resembles gambling. In this game, however, the Trustees place the bets, but the taxpayers, students and the community bear the losses. Investing in students by removing barriers to attendance and developing academic programs for high-demand skills is the mission of the college. Building health clubs and hotels? Not so much.

Diverting operational dollars to spare-change hunts is not only aggravating, but also it reduces or eliminates Washtenaw County residents’ opportunities to move into high-demand career fields. So, it seems that we have Trustees and an Administration that have clearly given up on the College’s mission. As the voting public, we must see these diversions of operational funds for what they are: opportunity theft.

Photo Credit: fantastklywell , via Flickr