In 1988, the Nordic Educational Trust was created to offer scholarships to Vermont students who have a strong desire and potential to succeed in a technical field. Ross and Gail Anderson, former owners of Nordic Ford and Toyota in South Burlington, created the Trust to encourage young men and women to pursue studies in fields such as; automotive technology, computer assisted design, diversified agriculture, or health information technology, to name a few. Each year, the Trust grants scholarships to deserving students at two-year, post-secondary educational institutions throughout Vermont. These scholarships are not based upon previous academic performance, but are targeted to students who have an aptitude for applied learning.
People who know the Andersons well, speak often of their lifelong commitment to workforce education. They understand that a high school education is not enough to secure a good paying job. According to Ross, “too many young people are missing a world of opportunity by ruling out certain technical types of employment”. Associate degrees, on-the-job training, apprenticeships, and certificates produce good employment outcomes. Learning a trade can be a life altering experience for a person, resulting in higher wages, worker productivity, and economic stability. Nordic Ford and Toyota has seen its share of employees whose lives were improved by learning a trade within the automotive industry. However the multiplier effect occurs when these skilled workers can offer a higher quality of life for themselves and their families.
In 2006, the Vermont Business Roundtable published a study entitled, “Having the Courage to Change”. This report finds that demographic changes in the state will result in a shortage of young people, a burgeoning growth in the elderly population, and an increase in the number of high school dropouts if census trends are allowed to continue unfettered. The challenge that Vermont will face is a significant shortage of skilled workers over the next 20 years. Among the state’s 50 fastest growing occupations, 44 require significant post-secondary education or training, and of the top ten fastest-growing jobs in Vermont, nine require specific post-secondary education or training. The report concludes that it is imperative for Vermont to invest heavily in its human capital, as this is the state’s primary economic development strategy. The Roundtable has taken this imperative and turned it into an action by providing the business leadership and a road map to help trade workers get the training they need.
Since its inception, the Roundtable has maintained that a core component of Vermont’s economic well-being is a well-educated citizenry. Given its goal to, make Vermont the best place in America to do business, be educated, and live life, the Roundtable is asking its members to invest in the Nordic Educational Trust and act as mentors to scholarship students at their place of business.
The Roundtable has focused on workforce training because its members believe that Vermont’s potential for economic growth relies heavily on how we confront this looming workforce skills gap. Said Roundtable President Lisa Ventriss, “Our newly released Pulse of Vermont: Quality of Life Study 2010 proves to us once again, that creating more good jobs is of the highest priority to our survey respondents. We also know that those Vermonters who continued their education beyond high school expressed much higher levels of job satisfaction than did those with less education. How can we not make this critical investment in our human capital, it is the core of our economic foundation in Vermont.”
The Roundtable took over stewardship and administration of the Trust in 2010 from the Andersons. The following Roundtable members have been appointed to serve on the inaugural Board of Trustees: Steve Voigt, President and CEO of King Arthur Flour Co., Roundtable Vice-chair, and Chair of the Roundtable’s Education Working Group; Renee Bourget-Place, Partner, KPMG; Robert “Sparky” Millikin, Managing Partner, TruexCullins Architecture & Interior Design; and Lisa Ventriss, Roundtable President.
Scholarship recipient, Aimee Arel, from Newport is attending Vermont Technical College, pursuing an associate degree in Nursing. The funding has helped her pay for her son’s daycare expenses while she attends classes and works two jobs. According to Ms. Arel, this scholarship has, “allowed me to pursue my dream and fulfill it. I am so thankful for that.” Recipient Hung Mai from Burlington, is also attending Vermont Technical College. Majoring in Automotive Technology, he has learned what it takes to open and run a successful small business. According to Mr. Mai, “ the scholarship represents not only my education, but also the trust the donors have given me. I am looking forward to wrapping up my college experience and heading out into the automotive industry.”
Workers today must be good problem solvers in order to succeed. As we move further into a knowledge-based economy, all of Vermont’s workforce, even in the more traditional trades, will require more sophisticated skills to compete in the marketplace. Through the leadership of the VT Business Roundtable and support from The Nordic Educational Trust, Vermont businesses set the example of how to best support tomorrow’s problem solvers.