By Matt Tota
Andrew Higgins, a fresh-faced EMC Corp. employee, represents a workforce that U.S. Rep. Joe Kennedy III believes must grow.
While a student at Tri-County Regional Vocational Technical High School, Higgins worked at Franklin's EMC facility through a co-op program. He graduated in 2009, and the company hired him this year.
"I got a lot of experience," he said, wearing a navy blue EMC polo short. "There were a lot of different things to learn."
Touring the state to gather information for Gov. Deval Patrick's Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) Advisory Council, Kennedy said Tuesday that partnerships between large companies and academic institutions produce skilled workers like Higgins, who rely on their STEM educations to find jobs.
"The educational community -- community colleges, vocational schools, high schools, universities -- have recognized the need for development of a STEM curriculum and investment in that kind of education," Kennedy said outside of EMC's imposing glass building on Constitution Boulevard. "So has the business community. And part of the issue here has been creating a forum for that kind of communication and collaboration."
Kennedy, who earlier walked through the vast manufacturing floor and met with EMC executives, said companies recognize a market for innovative products, and, big or small, "customers are willing to pay a premium for quality.
"That means the best development, but it also means the most skilled workforce that has the capability of developing those products," he said.
Tom Andrellos, vice president of manufacturing at the facility, told Kennedy that EMC has forged relationships with several institutions, both technical and higher learning. "We are getting excellent students that are committed and dedicated to doing their best," he said.
Employing about 10,000 people in Massachusetts, EMC in large part relies on STEM students to "continue to strengthen our workforce," he said.
The co-op program is as beneficial for Tri-County, Superintendent Stephen Dockray said. "It gives the kids the real-world experience," he said.
And EMC meets yearly with Tri-County officials to help keep the school's STEM curriculum relevant, vocational director Jean George noted.
"They come in twice a year and advise us by looking at our curriculum to determine what we will need to include in the future," she said, adding, "If we lose industry partners, it will be tough for our students to succeed."