Web Essay: Employers must be at school-improvement table

January 21, 2014

When deciding K-12 outcomes, employers must be at the table.

Common Core, and teacher evaluation programs are making front-page news. Local Regents Wade Norwood and Andrew Brown have been working to educate the public about the need to advance our K-12 education process. As an employer and advocate for educational reform, I applaud the work of the Regents to install a mandate that high school graduates be college- and career-ready.

I am currently chairperson for Finger Lakes Advanced Manufacturing Enterprise (FAME) and a member of the Regional Economic Development Council's work group on middle skills workforce development. I am frustrated by the gap between good-paying jobs and the unemployed folks who are not qualified to fill them. I applaud the work of our regional council and the commitment of time and resources from our co-chairs, Joel Seligman and Danny Wegman.

However, I am not satisfied with the participation from the base of stakeholders, particularly employers. Most living-wage job growth in the coming decades will be middle skilled; jobs that require more than a high school diploma, but less than a four-year degree. Many of these jobs are technical in nature requiring a solid grasp of STEM, (science, technology, engineering and math) principles.

In my work with our region's high schools and community colleges, including the Rochester City School District, I have witnessed support and engagement by employers. While this is an excellent start, there are not enough of us engaged. Long gone are the days when the big firms mapped out the course for our schools. When they stopped hiring we lost our leadership. Since that time, our educational system has been shaped without a critical mass of employers at the table.

It is my hope we can reverse this trend and build on the momentum spawned from our regional council's work. On Jan. 22, FAME's annual event will take place at Monroe Community College. We have invited Andy Van Kleunen from the National Skills Coalition to speak on the relevance of public-private partnerships and how they are instrumental to closing the skills gap.

I invite all manufacturing employers who are looking for gold collar employees to attend. Our region generates 450 tooling and machining job openings each year and we are training only 80 qualified candidates to fill them. Together we can fix this.

Employers, we need you! Please join us.

Mike Mandina is president of Optimax Systems Inc. in Ontario, Wayne County.