Chris Gray, Ph.D. 

Founding President, Erie County Community College 

Veterans Day serves as a reminder of the dedication, bravery, and selflessness exhibited by those who put their lives on the line to protect their fellow citizens. As we prepare to celebrate Veterans Day this weekend, I wanted to pause and thank the men and women in uniform for their tireless courage and service to our country. Their selflessness and dedication to preserving our freedoms cannot be lauded enough. Today, always, we are in these heroes’ debt! 

As you’ve heard me say many times before, EC3 is an institution built on its students. Many of those students are veterans — some returning from active duty and others recent reservists.  We strive to ensure that we offer the kinds of careers that these veterans-turned-students need as they use their benefits to invest in their education. One way we do so is by offering training to prepare our students for high-priority occupations.   

Of late, you may have noticed that high-priority occupations are being mentioned more and more frequently. The Pennsylvania Center for Workforce Information & Analysis compiles a high-priority occupations list and says that these positions “are one component of Pennsylvania’s industry-driven approach to workforce development. The purpose of the HPO list is to align workforce training and education investments with occupations that are in demand by employers, have higher skill needs, and are most likely to provide family-sustaining wages.”  There is a lot of data available about these occupations, and it’s easy to get lost in the information. The short version, however, is that, to make the list, the occupation must be in high demand due to its importance and the emerging need for skilled professionals. The industry in question relies heavily on these roles and requires a sufficient workforce to meet its requirements. And that’s where we come in. 

EC3’s approach to workforce development has been one that is both responsive and proactive in nature since we initially opened our doors to welcome students. First, we respond to community, county, and state needs. We work with our local partners to help provide the kind of robust, trained workforce that will move us forward. We also proactively seek opportunities to introduce new programs to students who might not be aware of them. Veterans are one such group to whom we regularly reach out, particularly as they transition back to civilian status and sometimes want to use their benefits to retrain. We are continually committed to this process.  

High-priority occupations often require specialized skills or knowledge that are not easily replaceable or transferable to other roles. These skills may be highly specific and unique to the industry or occupation, making it essential to retain and prioritize professionals in these roles.  And guess who else often has specialized skills and knowledge? Yes, indeed! Helping veterans to apply or augment what they already know to fill these in-demand jobs is something that we take very seriously. Whenever possible, we try to help make this happen! 

Our veterans have played a vital role in safeguarding national security, upholding democratic values, and promoting peace around the world. The experiences, skills, and training acquired during their service are often transferable to civilian occupations, making them valuable assets to our community. Many veterans continue to contribute to high-priority occupations using their specialized knowledge and expertise to benefit their communities. We want to do all that we can to ensure that they are able to do so here in Pennsylvania if that is their wish. 

As I sign off, I’d like to circle back to where I began this blog: with Veterans Day, a day of immense significance as it honors the brave men and women who have served in the military. I hope that we all take some time to recognize and express gratitude for the sacrifices made by veterans in defending our country and preserving freedom and democracy. And I hope that we will see more and more of our county’s veterans joining us at EC3. We are so grateful for your service and would be honored to help you take your next steps toward your next goal. Today and always, thank you!