Guest Commentary: Preparing for the knowledge economy
-October 26th, 2017
Victoria Simboli graduated from Eastern Washington University in June with a major in professional accounting. She was hired by Eide Bailly LLP, in Spokane.
Greig McAllister, who graduated with a bachelor’s degree in computer science, was hired last summer as a software developer for Schweitzer Engineering Laboratories Inc., in Spokane.
Jesse Shooter, who double-majored in biology and chemistry, was hired by Hi-Rel Laboratories Inc., in Spokane.
Each spring, EWU graduates about 3,000 students. By September, most of those graduates are employed in the professional workforce. A significant majority remain in the state of Washington. The employers hiring the largest number of our students statewide include Microsoft Corp., Boeing Co., Spokane Public Schools, Providence Health Services, Amazon.com Inc., and Avista Corp.
Many graduates remain in the professional workforce of our region: the accountants, technology specialists, teachers, city planners, dental hygienists, social workers, health care professionals, and business leaders.
On the community indicators website for Spokane County, Patrick Jones, director of EWU’s Institute for Public Policy and Economic Analysis, reminds us that we live in a knowledge economy: “The education and skills needed to compete in the knowledge economy emphasize science, technology, technical expertise, critical and analytical thinking, and communications.”
Workforce needs are changing rapidly. In every economic sector, even as employers face increasing numbers of retirements, they also face profound disruptions. EWU is committed to meeting the changing needs of our communities and our students: we must consider both what students and employers need now and what they will need five, 10, 20 years from now.
How can we best prepare students for careers that we can’t foresee?
Predictive analyses done by Jones and by organizations such as the Association of Washington Business provide clues. However, universities and employers need to communicate. We need to think creatively and collaboratively about how best to anticipate and support the success of current and future students as well as employers.
Our recent initiative with Microsoft is an example of creative collaboration. Microsoft seeks employees who have completed certification in data science. By embedding that certification in EWU’s data analytics degree, both students and Microsoft will benefit, as will employers in the many industries that rely increasingly on expertise in big data.
As our region works to remain successful in the knowledge economy, EWU and employers need to plan for the future. Working together to envision future demands and necessary expertise, we will be able to expand innovative curricula and design practical experiences such as applied research projects and internships that help students be career-ready.
Working together, we will ensure that our region is prepared for success and growth in the knowledge economy for many years to come.
Mary Cullinan is president of Eastern Washington University.