Too often, people in education suffer from “analysis paralysis,” Dr. Stephen Scott, president of Wake Technical Community College told the North Carolina Chamber of Commerce Conference on EducationThursday.

In luncheon keynote laced with humor, Scott told the ballroom packed with educators and executives: “I want you to take action regarding the skills gap. It’s in your enlightened self interest. It’s good for your organization, school, or business.”

To convince them to take action, he joked, “I might try a little guilt. My mother was the East Coast distributor for guilt.”

As he began discussing Wake Tech, he said, “It’s a poor frog who doesn’t praise his own pond,” distributing laughter throughout the room.

Importance of partnerships

More seriously, he said its work is bolstered by “our partnerships with business, education, government, foundations and others.”

Wake Tech’s new RTP campus, set to open this spring, was a result of a 2009 meeting at the Research Triangle Park Foundation. “Even in the recession, companies worried about their talent pipeline and wanted to know what Wake Tech could do to help them improve it. That was the genesis of the campus. Partnership made it happen.”

Scott added, “There is no silver bullet to solve the skills gap. It will take all of us doing more than we have done up to this time.”

One thing Wake Tech is doing is its early college program, which Scott attributed to the tenacious advocacy of Anne Goodnight, wife of SAS CEO Jim Goodnight, both of whom are active in promoting education.

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Scott said “We have graduated about 55 students a year since 2010.” Those high school students graduate with many hours of college credit.

Wake Tech had 73,000 students and a budget under $300 million last year. The students have an average age of 34, but they’re getting younger, Scott said. Nearly a quarter, 23 percent, already has bachelor degrees.

Are we teaching 21st century skills?

He asked: Are we teaching these 21st century students the so-called “soft skills,” team building, cooperation and so forth? He also noted than in some high tech areas, such as cyber security, jobs can’t be filled because of the skills gap. Wake Tech plans courses to address that gap.

He also noted the need for students and education to pay more attention to higher ed that helps graduates find good jobs. “Millions of Americans owe billions of dollars in student debt that might not set them up for a career,” he said.

While many students wait until near graduation before talking with its career services department, “we try to get them involved early, in orientation,” Scott said.

He recommended the free Chamber of Commerce web site, Launch Your Career, which addresses the potential return on investment from various college education choices.

He encouraged businesses to take action in several ways, in particular by offering internships and apprenticeships that allow students to “learn to work and work to learn.”

By asking who cares if a student gets a job in addition to the student and his parents, Scott said, “The answer I came up with was career placement and staffing companies.”

That resulted in partnerships with 12 career placement firms helping Wake Tech students find jobs.

“Businesses,” Scott concluded, “If you want more better qualified candidates, you have to help us educators. If you don’t, we won’t be able to give them the kind of experience they need to be successful.”