About 80 representatives from local businesses, educational institutions, associations and government organizations gathered Friday morning at a symposium focused on improving career and technical education for potential employees throughout the region.

Held at the University of Mary Washington’s Stafford County campus, Wittman said in his remarks that he hoped the event would encourage an increased partnership between the different groups to produce a new generation of skilled workers.

“Sixty percent of the jobs in the future will not require a four-year degree,” Wittman said. “But they will require a certification or credential, so there will be a need for post-secondary education.”

He added that 85 percent of those jobs will require some element of science, technology, engineering and math.

“So we see a common theme here in the things we need to be doing in our school systems, and in our businesses, to make sure educational programs are designed and implemented to satisfy the needs of the business community,” Wittman said.

Traditional four-year degrees aren’t matching those needs, according to Wittman.

“Forty-six percent of college graduates are not working in the area in which they received their degree,” he said. “So we want to make sure too that at every level we are matching that educational experience—knowledge, skills and abilities—with solid career paths.”

Wittman said a dialogue should begin with parents and fourth- and fifth-grade students to help explore a child’s interests and possible future career options, so their education can better match that trajectory.

Also, businesses need to be aware of and foster potential employees from sources they may not always think about, such as military retirees, and the disabled, to ensure those groups are aware of needed skills and how credentials may be sought.

Kate Kegy from the Virginia Manufacturers Association was invited to share her perspective on CTE issues during the symposium.

In her role as liaison with the Career Pathways for Individuals with Disabilities, her efforts are focused on connecting businesses, associations and educational institutions with programs to build a stronger future workforce.

Kegy said the VMA estimates that within a decade, 3.4 million job positions will be needed in manufacturing, but only 1.4 million will be filed.

“That means 2 million jobs will go unfilled due to the skill gap,” Kegy said. “We need to do something and we need to do something now.”

For the most basic certifications needed in the manufacturing industry, Kegy said the VMA is probing where certification programs can be offered, from high schools to community colleges to veterans organizations.

“We’re looking at all nontraditional students that we possibly can to get into this field,” she said, which is where CPID comes in.

Last year, Kegy said, 65.3 percent of employed individuals had no disabilities. People with disabilities make up 17.9 percent of the workforce.

“We’ve got a huge minority right there,” Kegy said. “Many of those with disabilities are hidden: those with autism, those with learning disabilities, returning veterans with disabilities. All these are a great resource, and that’s why VMA has decided to partner with Career Pathways.”

At the symposium, representatives from local businesses, schools and government organizations had informational booths set up and were encouraged to network with each other. Wittman made himself available to answer questions and discuss ideas with attendees for the majority of the time he was there.

During that time, Wittman said a big challenge is the assumption ingrained in our culture that stipulates a four-year degree is required for a person to be successful.

“Parents need to understand what opportunities are out there for their children outside of a four-year college track,” he said. “Those jobs that you think of as ‘dirty’ today really aren’t dirty.”

He used welding as an example. “In order to be certified as a welder, to weld the compartments in the ship that hold the nuclear reactors, you have more formal education than a neurosurgeon,” Wittman said. “So for people to think, ‘It’s unskilled work, it’s dirty’—this is some of the most advanced, clean manufacturing that you’ve ever seen.”

He stressed that involving parents and children with discussions about their future careers from an early age is key to changing perceptions of education and success.

When that happens, Wittman said, parents will realize, “Wow, I didn’t know my child, with a high school education, could go and work in advanced manufacturing, and through a career, make more money than they could on a college track.”