With Amazon HQ2 coming to Northern Virginia, local leaders see fresh opportunities for education and commerce, the region’s top educators said this week.
Germanna Community College President Janet Gullickson and University of Mary Washington President Troy Paino emerged from an information-technology summit in Fredericksburg sounding inspired about the challenges presented by Amazon’s pending arrival and the national capital’s already-urgent demand for graduates trained in cybersecurity and other tech fields.
If successful, a budding coalition of educators, businesses and the commonwealth could guide more students into high-paying computer careers and, eventually, foster creation of local businesses to serve Amazon and related suppliers, software developers and logistics firms, Paino and Gullickson said in interviews.
Those ideas and others sprang from the half-day Technology Pipeline Innovative Collaboration Summit held Jan. 8 in the Hurley Convergence Center on UMW’s Fredericksburg Campus. It brought together economic development officials, community leaders, and administrators and faculty from area school divisions, the college and the university.
The central idea? To create a pipeline of students, graduates and employees to fill tech jobs in the Washington metropolitan area, support Amazon’s HQ2, and support new businesses that may spin off from Amazon’s presence.
“We want to excite our young students about getting involved in all areas of computer science,” Germanna’s Gullickson said. “We don’t think we can do what without working together with UMW, employers in the region and our K-through-12 partners. All of that is going to be necessary to meet what appears to be an insatiable demand around computer-science occupations.”
Paino expressed optimism about the initiative’s prospects, while acknowledging it will face hurdles.
NEW CAREER PATHS
The discussion launched at the summit could “break the model of education that is currently failing far too many of our students,” he said. “Only 1 in 5 students in our nation successfully navigate the current pathway from high school to college to career. Thinking differently about how all of the educational entities and industry work together to create a new model could help the vast majority of our students who are falling through the cracks of the system.”
For much of the summit, participants focused on how they can leverage the need to build and accelerate the “tech-talent pipeline” to respond to workforce demands that will only intensify with Amazon HQ2 coming to Northern Virginia, Paino said.
UMW has yet to determine which K-12 partners and industries want to work on the project. Paino said the school has agreed to a follow-up meeting in March.
The next step is to create working groups that will help develop a partnership agreement the coalition can take to the Virginia Economic Development Partnership and other funders and interested employers “to show that this community, the Fredericksburg-Culpeper region, is working together to do what we need to do,” Gullickson said. “We’re not working in separate silos.”
AND LOWER COSTS
Starting students on tech career paths even earlier is essential, so they get the inspiration, training, education and internship opportunities they’ll need to find their way into a promising career, Gullickson said.
Without lots of encouragement, careful groundwork and dual-enrollment classes in high school, the average student “is not going to wake up one day and say, ‘I want to be a network engineer,’ ” she said. “In the ideal situation, that process should should begin when you’re in junior high.”
Gullickson expressed excitement about the career and technical education high school that Culpeper County Public Schools is planning to build.
“I can’t say enough about the good work that [Superintendent Tony] Brads is doing, the vision he is bringing, and the fact that we’re able to plug into that in such a positive way,” she said. “It’s really wonderful.”
Germanna is working to create pathways for students, starting in high school, where they can get high school and college credit for tech classes, and move on through college into computer-related fields, Gullickson said.
And for those a bit later in life, the college offers IT and Amazon Web Services certifications that help people land jobs.
Germanna is accredited as an Amazon Web Services Academy, one of the few colleges in Virginia to gain that distinction, said Martha O’Keefe, the college’s associate vice president for workforce development.