Public-Private Partnerships: A STEM Success Story

Companies are increasingly designing their own courses at colleges to get the workers they need.

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There's one thing that all the STEM success stories shared at this week's STEM Solutions summit have in common: partnership. Businesses that have become frustrated with trying to find workers who know their way around high-tech factory machinery or who can design cutting edge products have started going to colleges and universities and saying, "We can help."

Companies are increasingly partnering with community colleges and four year universities to design specific curricula geared towards certain jobs. In North Carolina, for example, Siemens and the University of North Carolina—Charlotte, have partnered to create a program to train engineers to work in the company's new gas turbine plant.

"Everything in that plant is run by a computer, a robot, or a laser," said Eric Spiegel, CEO of the company. "The production workers there have to be very highly skilled and have a sophisticated knowledge of STEM. Years, ago, we had difficulty finding those kinds of people, that's when we reached out to universities."

Public-private partnerships like that one work out well for universities, companies, and students, said Eduardo Padrón, president of Miami-Dade College, which has many similar programs.

"Our institution has become the primary education and training resource in the South Florida area. We guarantee every business that if they come here, we will provide whatever training needs they need in order to have an effective workforce," he said.

"The business gets qualified workers, we get assistance with curriculum development and they provide internship and job opportunities for students. In many cases, we get a little seed money to start the program," he added.

Spiegel says that a typical partnership with a university can cost up to $150,000 per student, but that those students leave school with something the company deeply desires—the ability to step immediately into a highly-skilled job.

Public-private partnerships can also benefit professors at universities. Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland has had a long-standing partnership with Siemens. Barbara Snyder, president of the university, says the partnership has allowed both students and professors to do meaningful research for the company that they might not have otherwise been able to do.

"We're not only preparing people for business, but our partnership with Siemens has helped our research efforts and allowed our scientists and students to become deeply involved in creating new technologies that are being used today," she said. "It's really fostered synergy between Siemens and the university."