Amazon’s choice to locate a second headquarters in the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area is highlighting the region’s need to provide an ever-increasing number of educated workers to fill new technology jobs each year. Amazon alone is expected to hire some 25,000 new employees in the national capital region over the next 12 years, but other knowledge- and technology-oriented employers will be looking for similar skill sets in cities around the globe.
While many groups are working to address this issue, the Greater Washington Partnership (GWP) has launched a well-funded effort to “create impact at scale.” GWP’s Capital CoLAB—which stands for Collaborative of Leaders in Academia and Business—is moving quickly to carry out its mission and already has garnered more than $6 million in grants.
GWP was cofounded in 2016 by the high-powered business leaders who led Washington’s bid to host the 2024 Summer Olympic Games—W. Russell Ramsey of hedge fund Ramsey Asset Management; Ted Leonsis, who owns the National Basketball Association and National Hockey League franchises in Washington as part of his company Monumental Sports & Entertainment; and Peter Scher, chairman of the JPMorgan Chase Foundation.
The partnership’s board includes other area business leaders, including Kevin Plank, founder and chairman of Under Armour; David Rubenstein, chairman of the Carlyle Group; Sheila Johnson, chief executive officer of Salamander Hotels and Resorts; and Wesley G. Bush, former chief executive officer of Northrop Grumman. Recent additions to the board include staffing firm ASGN, Amazon Web Services, defense contractor General Dynamics, local utility Washington Gas, and real estate investment trust JBG Smith.
“The Partnership was founded by many of the leading employers and entrepreneurs in the Capital Region of Baltimore, Washington, and Richmond, who are committed to driving solutions and fostering unity to make the Capital Region one of the world’s best places to work, live, and build a business,” said Jason Miller, CEO of the Greater Washington Partnership. “ We want the Capital Region to be seen as the model of an inclusive, dynamic, unified and prosperous community, so we have focused our efforts on developing skills and talent in the region and on improving regional mobility.”
CoLAB’s broad goals are to help universities, businesses, and the government work together to develop the region’s talent and workforce now and in the future, connect innovators across sectors to develop and commercialize cutting-edge technologies, and improve awareness of the region as a leading innovation hub.
In the past two months, CoLAB has focused on digital technology. The core of that initiative is a new credential to help undergraduate students in the region develop the tech skills and knowledge that employers increasingly need. Based on competencies defined by employers in multiple industries, a “generalist” credential for non-technology majors has been launched that covers foundational data analytics, data ethics, visualization, and cybersecurity skills. There are also three “stackable specialist” credentials in progress for technology majors that focus on data analytics, machine learning, and cybersecurity.
The credential is designed to be flexible. “We provide the basic requirements for it, but it’s up to the university as to how to implement it,” said Miller. “A student can earn a credential as part of a major or minor, or along with a certificate. Many universities allow students to ‘stack’ multiple certificates to earn master’s degrees.” Students with credentials are given digital badges that they can include in their resumes. Embedded in each badge is detailed information on the student’s proven knowledge and skills in that area.
The CoLAB is also a partner in TalentReady, a $6 million initiative funded by JPMorgan Chase to help high schools and community colleges in the region create and enhance employer-aligned information technology “pathways.” “With these pathways, students can start their tech studies at high school, taking technology courses that will earn them credit at community colleges,” said Miller. “The goal is for students to then be able to transition directly into high-demand jobs or continue their education at a four-year college where they can continue moving into progressively advanced positions.”
Under the JPMorgan Chase grant, GWP already has helped establish five pathways partnerships:
- Montgomery County (Maryland) Public Schools and Montgomery Community College;
- Fairfax County (Virginia) Public Schools and Northern Virginia Community College;
- Prince George’s County (Maryland) Public Schools and Prince George’s Community College;
- District of Columbia Public Schools and several institutions, including the University of the District of Columbia; and
- Baltimore City Public Schools and Baltimore City Community College.
The school districts are busy determining where and how to adjust their curriculums to meet the requirements for the new credentialing system so that students can smoothly make the transition from high school to community college or directly to a four-year university to complete their technology studies with little or no need to repeat courses.
Work also is progressing on the credentialing system. George Mason University and Virginia Commonwealth University already offer credentials. American University, Virginia Tech, Georgetown University, and the University of Richmond are scheduled to launch their programs for the 2020 spring semester.
Meanwhile, GWP has obtained a grant from the National Science Foundation, channeled through the Business Higher Education Forum, to start developing programs to help area workers improve their skills. And beginning this fall, the GWP will look at ways to increase diversity and inclusion in regional technology education.
“Our region does better than average in terms of women and minorities in the technology sector, but we are nowhere near their representation in the population,” Thornton notes. “A lot needs to happen within business and universities.”