Keeping Up with the Demand for a Technically – Skilled Workforce: The Role of ATE Networks and Community Colleges A Forum, hosted in partnership with the American Association of Community Colleges

Keeping Up with the Demand for a Technically – Skilled Workforce: The Role of ATE Networks and Community Colleges A Forum, hosted in partnership with the American Association of Community Colleges
Keeping Up with the Demand for a Technically – Skilled Workforce: The Role of ATE Networks and Community Colleges A Forum, hosted in partnership with the American Association of Community Colleges

This was the first in a series of forums showcasing the work of the Advanced Technological Education (ATE) program, created by the U.S. Congress in 1992 in an effort to boost the nation’s supply of highly skilled technicians in math-, science-, and engineering-intensive industries. Funded and overseen by the National Science Foundation, ATE’s thirty centers—located in every part of the country—coordinate efforts among high school and community college educators, business leaders, and government officials to recruit and train workers for rewarding careers in growing sectors of the economy, such as biotechnology, chemical technology, civil and construction technology, and electronics.

This forum featured a pair of especially well-regarded programs. The first, the National Center for Information and Communication Technologies (ICT Center) [formerly known as the National Center for Telecommunications Technologies (NCTT)]—located at Springfield (MA) Technical Community College—aims to improve the preparation of workers for jobs in the information and communications technologies. In partnership with community college instructors and industry trainers, ICT Center develops new courses and teaching materials, provides faculty and teacher development, and offers academic support for students.

The second involves a partnership between the Center for the Advancement of Process Technology (CAPT)—housed at the College of the Mainland in Texas City, TX—and a number of leading firms in the chemical and petrochemical industries, such as BASF, BP, ChevronTexaco, ConocoPhillips, Dow Chemical, DuPont, ExxonMobil, Roche Pharmaceuticals, and Shell Chemical. Working with its partners to identify critical labor shortages, and guided by industry-defined skills standards, CAPT assists by creating  curriculum for a two-year degree program in the high-demand fields of process and chemical technology (operator), as well as developing courses and teaching materials, offering professional development opportunities for community college and high school faculty, and career awareness activities for students.

Gordon Snyder, ICT Center’s Executive Director, began by giving a brief overview of the Center’s origins and rapid growth. Launched in 1997 with a service area that included New England and New York, ICT Center is now a national resource center offering a range of supports for educators in the Information and Communications Technologies (ICT). The Center currently has formal partnerships with fourteen academic institutions in ten states and has impacted more than 100,000 students. and the Center serves a fast-growing audience of industry trainers and educators at the high school and two- and four-year college levels.

Given the pace of change in the ICT world, Snyder explained, the Center’s core challenge is to ensure that its course materials and other resources (including the development of national skills standards for ICT workers) keep current with the latest industry needs and technologies. Its strategy has been to consult frequently with a large network of faculty and employers across the country and to use a variety of cutting-edge, Internet-based resources—such as blogs, podcasts, videoconferences, and YouTube channel—to disseminate its work quickly and to encourage discussion and information sharing among educators, trainers, and others in the field.

Ellen Bemben, President of the Regional Technology Corporation (RTC) picked up on Snyder’s introduction, describing her organization’s ongoing and valuable partnership with ICT Center, specifically its efforts within the existing “Knowledge Corridor” running through Western Massachusetts, out to New York state and South into Connecticut.

RTC was created in 2000 by the University of Massachusetts, Amherst with a $600,000 NSF Grant awarded to it following work with the Western Massachusetts Economic Development Council and the business leaders, in an effort to respond to the decline of the region’s older manufacturing industries, long the backbone of the local economy. Its primary mission at first was to identify new industries in the region and then help to grow them. RTC’s current role is to help create an attractive environment for the 3 new clusters identified by 2 Battelle studies.  The new clusters discovered are: advanced materials and precision manufacturing, the Life Sciences and Information Technologies.  These new clusters require a skilled workforce.  Another mantra for the RTC is connectivity – making introductions that made sense and foster new business.  The RTC partners heavily with Academia.  An excellent example is the work it is doing with Gordon Snyder, ICT and Springfield Technical Community College (STCC). .  STCC now develops courses tailored to these new clusters and their subsequent career openings; it encourages contacts among employers and government leaders, in order to keep track of industry labor needs; and it assists in creating new business initiatives, such as a biofuels research lab that it recently helped to land in Springfield, MA, with links to a proposed training program at the University of Massachusetts.

Over the last few years, RTC and ICT Center have sought out opportunities to leverage each other’s programs and strengths and to help develop new business.  For example, ICT and the RTC started the formal IT network now named TEC and has seen great success in training the business community in what has been named, the “Digital Marketing Series” that has now run for a year and a half covering such topics as SaaS, Podcasting, Blogging, and other Web 2.0 produducts.  Both the ICT Center and the RTC work within the Knowledge Corridor and its 32 two – and four-year colleges and universities and close to 1 million workers. This has resulted in the creation and delivery of appropriate training courses in response to these new ventures requiring skilled workers in IT, precision manufacturing,engineering and mathematics (STEM) and other fields. Further, RTC works with the Deliso Videoconferencing center at STCC and under the ICT in recording each of its Digital Marketing programs and other programs for business developed by the RTC by partnering with the ITC and its media resources.  The RTC has more recently started a first ever IT CEO Roundtable series which it holds on the STCC campus monthly.  This has brought together the region’s brightest young CEOs and their small to mid-sized IT and tech-enabled companies To work together in confidence and to help one another based on their own experiences and expertise.

In short, concluded Bemben, the region’s new employers have come to recognize that higher education, specifically the Community Colleges, has an essential role to play in developing the local workforce, new technology based business and the partnership between RTC and ICT Center which has already begun to pay off, with rapid growth by the participation of employers and educators at these novel events and programs.  It is expected that the RTC-ICT partnership will not only continue, but will be taken to a new level of technical sophistication to match its business audience now and into the future.

Bill Raley, Dean of Technical and Workforce Education at the College of the Mainland, began his presentation by showing a segment from a local television news program, reporting on the area’s shortage of skilled machinists and the success of the area’s community college graduates in securing well-paying jobs as operators in Gulf Coast petrochemical facilities.

According to Raley, the area’s refineries and chemical plants will require 50,000 new operators, welders, machinists, and other kinds of skilled craftsmen within the next five years to seven years, but only about 5,000 students are currently in the training pipeline. Among students earning relevant AAS degrees at the College of the Mainland, roughly 90% are able to find good jobs close to home, and the demand for graduates continues to grow.

The Center for the Advancement of Process Technology (CAPT)—located at the College of the Mainland in Texas City, Texas—began its collaboration with regional petrochemical industries as early as 1990, when it first became clear that the oil business would require growing numbers of highly skilled workers. Together industry and education partners formed the Gulf Coast Process Technology Alliance to create a standardized two-year AAS degree program in process technology. Initial funding for curriculum development came in the form of grants from the Carl D. Perkins Career and Texas Workforce Commission Grants.

Raley explained that refineries in the Middle East and elsewhere in the world rely upon a steady supply of cheap labor, which makes up for their lack of highly skilled technicians. By contrast, Gulf Coast oil producers and refiners  have been forced to invest in new technologies that increase productivity. In the States, each process technician job requires an average of 3.2 people to cover the shifts of a job that requires 24 – 7 coverage.  Many Middle Eastern facilities have nearly twice as many operators per job due to the lack of skills training. Better education and training plus advanced technology has allowed American producers and manufacturers to reduce the numbers of workers they require. Nevertheless, they still face labor shortages, due both to the retirement of older workers and the increased need for specific technical skills. In order to meet this need, they have turned largely to the community colleges.

Costing about $5,000 per student, a two-year degree seems like a bargain to students and employers alike, and if industry makes some up-front investment in supporting community colleges, it can reward itself with a steady supply of highly-skilled workers, trained for precisely the jobs that have to be filled.

Currently, CAPT works with more than 50 community colleges across the country to create two-year degree programs for careers in refineries and related industries. Those programs retain more than 90% of their students—compared to less than half that percentage a generation ago—and a thriving system of scholarships, internships, and recruitment all but ensures that graduates can enter attractive jobs debt-free upon finishing their studies. While the supply of those workers continues to be dwarfed by the demand, this strategy has been extremely successful, Raley concluded, and the degree programs will likely continue to grow.

Lee Rector, Deputy Director of the Texas State Workforce Investment Council, said that the key to the success of CAPT’s work has been its willingness to let industry leaders take the lead in defining their labor needs and the technical skills that should go into the community college curriculum. For the most part, she said employers—not educators—have been in the driver’s seat, and this has ensured the quality and relevance of the training that has been offered.

What role should state governments play in helping these sorts of partnerships to flourish? First, said Rector, states can create mechanisms to assist in identifying technical core curriculum for high-demand occupational areas, and ensure rigor in all academic and technical courses. The Texas Skills Standards Board recognized industry standards for process technicians in 2005 and subsequently recognized AAS process and chemical technology programs at a number of Texas community colleges.   Through replication of these recognized programs, other Texas colleges can adopt the core technical curriculum for implementation across regions.  This results in saving critical resources and assists in preventing program development duplication. In addition, it also allows the state to create additional incentives such as TSSB recognition for the individual college program and its graduates.

Second, said Rector, Texas has legislated the identification ofcollege readiness standards.  These standards, in association with an increased emphasis on science, technology, engineering, and math (the STEM fields) will help prepare all secondary students for further education or work. Texas is currently reviewing its secondary Career and Technical Education courses to ensure relevance and rigor, and may consider integrating that content into  courses that will meet the fourth-year math and science requirements under Texas’ recommended high school program  Finally, all high schools in Texas must offer a minimum of 12 hours of dual credit courses, which canl give students a leg up into the sorts of technical degree programs that CAPT supports.

Finally,  a state can play an active role in disseminating information and facilitating discussion among the industry and education leaders that must be involved in building any new degree programs. Since 2004, for example, Texas’ governor has promoted an initiative on building the strength of  Industry Clusters that are significant to the state’s economy.  In August, the Governor’s Competitiveness Council made recommendations for aligning education with critical workforce needs.


Highlights from the Question and Answer Session

A question was asked as to whether the panelists know of any industry-college partnerships that are specifically targeted to student populations that are underrepresented among skilled technicians. Gordon Snyder acknowledged that the ATE Centers have had some success in increasing the numbers of minority and female students studying to enter these careers. In his region, one challenge has to do with the fact that so many of the new jobs are being generated by small, start-up companies, which tend not to have the resources needed to do targeted advertising and recruiting. The role of an ATE Center, he added, is to promote the whole job sector Bill Raley reiterated that  there needs to be much more outreach to parents—many African American parents, in particular, harbor long-standing misgivings about technical training, and they often advise their kids to stear clear. In order to bring more students, and more student populations, into technical fields, parents will have to be persuaded to give those fields another look.

Bill Raley was asked whether he believes that the community colleges will be able to scale up their programs to meet the tremendous need for new workers in the petrochemical field. Raley answered that it depends on the willingness of the colleges to work together. In this industry, an important obstacle is the cost of setting up facilities that offer realistic simulations of oil refinery work—one facility was just built at the cost of about $1 dollars, for example, and it’s hard to imagine that investment being replicated at all 52 community colleges in Texas (even though Shell and other companies appear to be interested in helping pay for them). However, colleges can be creative in setting up exchange programs, sending 2nd-year students for short trips to use those facilities, so that they can get the much-needed laboratory experience. That sort of sharing of facilities is hard to coordinate, but it can allow for a real increase in training capacity. Added Lee Rector, this is another reason why state leadership is so important—local community colleges may not be able to see the broader, statewide issues of supply and demand, and they need some guidance as to which programs are most in need of investment and which resources can be shared. In New England, said Ellen Bemben, the situation is a bit different. Instead of one big industry creating demand for an enormous number of a specific kind of technician, the region has a lot of smaller, emerging industries, demanding a variety of different kinds of ICT workers. Given those kinds of localized needs, it’s easier for individual community colleges to act quickly, creating new degree programs as needs are identified, without having to make a major investment in the kind of facility that Raley describes.

The next question addressed the academic requirements needed for students to succeed in these kinds of highly technical community college programs—how many students come out of high school with the necessary math and science skills? Gordon Snyder acknowledged that large numbers of students (probably 70%, said Raley) require remediation, particularly in math, in order to move forward with their studies—most programs assume that students have completed Algebra II, at least. This is another reason why programs will need to do more outreach to parents, he added, in order to help them understand how important it is that their kids take higher-level math courses in high school. And, said Rector, that’s another reason why Texas, like other states, has adopted a recommended high school curriculum that includes four years of math.

Why, asked another participant, do we need ATE centers at all? Can’t the community colleges set up these sorts of partnerships and programs on their own? If community colleges tried to do so themselves, Rector replied, they would spend a lot more money than it costs to run the ATE centers. There’s no need for every institution to reinvent the wheel, coming up with its own course materials, skills standards, curriculum, and so on. Added Snyder, the ATE centers and their larger network of centers in a variety of interrelated fields have an important role to play in keeping track of what’s going on at various colleges, so that best practices can be shared and replicated.

Finally, a participant asked whether there is a shortage of instructors to teach in these sorts of community college programs, and whether they need four-year degrees in order to do so.  In ICT, said Snyder, most instructors come from the business world, particularly engineering, and many of them are older, late-career employees. The challenge, he added, isn’t to find enough instructors but, rather, to find good ones. In Texas, said Raley, in workforce AAS degrees, all faculty must meet state requirements, which require college instructors to have or be in the process of obtaining at least the degree in which they are teaching. Mostly, faculty are drawn from local industries, and—as in New England—they tend to be engineers or highly skilled practitioners in the field in which they are teaching.


Ellen Bemben is President of the Regional Technology Corporation (RTC), is a 501(c) (3), non-profit organization, based in Springfield, MA.  The RTC is one of several Affiliates of the far reaching Western Massachusetts Economic Development Council (EDC).  The RTC coordinates and manages the region’s technology-driven economic development strategies for business attraction, creation and retention.  It is closely aligned with academia and its founder, the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.

The RTC was formed with the successful awarding of a $600,000 NSF grant to UMass in 2000.  Ellen joined the RTC as a volunteer at its inception in 2001. In 2002 she Chaired the newly formed Materials & Manufacturing Technology Network (MMTN) and went on to become a member of the RTC Board of Directors in 2003.  She was elected RTC President in May, 2006.

Today, the RTC manages 4 technology-based business clusters – Clean Tech, Life Sciences, IT & Telecommunications and Advanced Materials & Manufacturing with its over 130 member companies such as MassMutual, Baystate Medical, Microsoft and EMC2.  The RTC actively promotes business in the “Knowledge Corridor” in Western New England and its over 30 colleges and universities and their 200,000+ annual graduates from UMass, UConn, Smith, Mount Holyoke, Trinity, Amherst, and other outstanding educating institutions.

Ellen is well – known in the polymer industries – plastics, adhesives and coatings.  She has over 25 years of experience in plastics half of it with General Polymers (now Ashland Distribution), a $2 Billion division of Ashland Oil which also owns Valvoline.

Ellen previously worked under contract for the Government of Israel in successfully promoting its plastics and packaging industries at the C-level of such companies as Gillette, GE Plastics, Smith & Wesson, Johnson & Johnson, and Elizabeth Arden.  She worked directly with the Economic Minister to North America – a direct report to the Prime Minister and traveled extensively in the Middle East.  Appreciation for her efforts was shown by way of a private dinner with then, Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, during a global business conference in Haifa, Israel.

She comes to the RTC from heading up New Business Development for Specialized Technology Resources (STR) of Enfield, CT, a global consumer product testing and materials development firm, founded in 1944, employing over 2,000 worldwide.

Ellen sits on the Board of Trustees for MA State Treasurer, Timothy Cahill and the new $4 million Commonwealth Covenant Fund providing tuition relief to 4-year MA STEM college and university students.  Ellen also serves on the Industry Advisory Council (IAC) of Western New England College, School of Engineering.  She is an advisor to the Society of Manufacturing Engineers’ (SME) big EASTEC trade show and medical device leader, BEACON’s MEDi 2008. She served 3 terms as President of the Society of Plastics Engineers (SPE), Western New England Section.

Ellen has won national achievement awards from such companies as Nypro, Eveready Battery and CIGNA.  She attended Lake Erie College, L’Université de Nancy, in France, and the University of Pittsburgh, Graduate School of Public & International Affairs, Dept. of International Affairs.

Dennis Link is the Manager of Unit-Specific Operations Training for BP Texas City Refinery and accountable for designing, developing and implementing quality, consistent operations training programs that contribute to safe, compliant and reliable operations.    Dennis is also a long-term   adjunct faculty member, plus a Process Technology Advisory Committee member at College of the Mainland.

Dennis has 30 years experience in the Petrochemical and Refining Industry across five BP plant sites, including an assignment in Belgium.   He was the initial chair of the College of the Mainland Advisory Committee that developed the original A.A.S. degree program in Progress Technology that became the model industry-driven program across the United States.

Dennis holds a B.S. degree in Mathematics with 20 years of practical experience in public and industrial education. He has a true passion for education, leadership and the continued advancement of Process Technology. Dennis is married with three grown children and 4 grandchildren.

Bill Raley is College of the Mainland’s Dean of Technical and Workforce Education. He has over 25 years administrative experience in post secondary education preceded by 10 years industry experience. Bill has also spent 10 years in the Middle East where he was involved in managing training efforts for Shell Oil and the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company. It was this experience that fomented his desire and commitment to focus on technical and workforce program improvements in the US.

Bill brought the initial team together that led to the development of the AAS in Process Technology at College of the Mainland. He was instrumental in bringing industry and education together that led to the formation of the Gulf Coast Process Technology Alliance that has been replicated in the formation of other regional alliances. Bill holds a BS and MS in Technology. He is the current Principle Investigator for the NSF ATE Center Grant at COM titled The Center For The Advancement Of Process Technology

Lee Rector is the Deputy Director of the Texas Workforce Investment Council, and is responsible for the conceptual design of Council’s products, and for ensuring that the Council’s statutory responsibilities of strategic planning for and evaluation of the Texas workforce system are accomplished. In accordance with both state and federal mandates, the Council advises the Texas Governor and the Legislature on the development of a highly-skilled workforce, as well as strategic opportunities for technical education and economic competitiveness.

With 20 years experience in workforce, post-secondary technical education, and policy, Ms. Rector has developed and implemented initiatives in higher education and workforce development in both the United States and Australia.  She holds graduate degrees in both business administration, and in human resource management and industrial relations, and a Bachelor’s of Education. She serves as co-chair for the National Science Foundation’s ATE Center for the Advancement of Process Technology.

Gordon F. Snyder, Jr. is Executive Director and Principal Investigator for the National Center for Information and Communications Technologies at Springfield Technical Community College in Springfield, MA, where he also manages curriculum development for networking. At STCC he helped develop the Verizon Next Step program and now serves as the New England telecommunications curriculum coordinator for the program. He is the author of four engineering and engineering technology textbooks and has over 14 years of consulting experience in the field of communications and LAN/WAN design. He has served on several local and national boards including the Microsoft Community & Technical College Advisory Council, the Massachusetts Networking and Communications Council and the National Skill Standards Board (NSSB) Information and Communications Technology (ICT) Voluntary Partnership representing the telecommunications, computer, and information industry sector. He currently chairs the Institute for Telecommunications Technologies Board at Cuyamaca College, El Cajon, California, the NSF National Center for Optics and Photonics Education Board in Waco, TX, the Convergence Technology Center Board in the Dallas Fort Worth. TX metroplex and co-chairs the Maricopa Advanced Technology Education Center board in Phoenix. Closer to home he chairs the Technology Enterprise Council (TEC), a regional, industry-led organization working hand-in-hand with academic institutions and other non-profit organizations to advance the growth and success of companies driven by information and communications technologies in Southern Vermont, Western Massachusetts and Connecticut. In this region he also sits on the Regional Technology Coucil (RTC) Board of Directors and the RTC Executive Committee. In 2001 he was selected as one of the top fifteen technology faculty in the United States by Microsoft Corporation and the American Association of Community Colleges and in 2004 was selected as the Massachusetts Telecommunications Council Workforce Development Leader of the year. His popular blogs and podcasts are read and listened to by thousands.


Dennis Link – Power Point Presentation

Regional Techonology Corporation – Power Point Presentation

Read his blog at: Read Show Notes and Listen to Mike Q and Gordon’s Podcasts at:

Gordon Snyder
Executive Director
National Center for Telecommunications Technologies (formerly National Center for Telecommunications Technologies)
Springfield Technical Community College
1 Armory Square
Springfield, MA  01105

Ellen Bemben
Regional Technology Corporation
1441 Main Street, Suite 136
Springfield, MA 01103-1449

Bill Raley
Dean, Technical / Workforce Education
College of the Mainland
1200 Amburn Road
Texas City, TX 77591
409-938-1211 ext. 284

Lee Rector
Deputy Director
Texas Workforce Investment Council
1100 San Jacinto, Suite 1.100
P.O. Box 2241
Austin, TX 78768

Dennis Link
Manager, Unit-Specific Operations Training
BP Texas City Refinery
PO Box 401
Texas City, TX  77592
ESB 209
Phone:  409-941-8270
[Program note: Due to the effects of Hurricane Ike, presenter—Dennis Link, was unable to attend.]



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