Can the Department of Labor's Geospatial Competency Model Translate to the Needs of the European Union?

October 4, 2010

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EUGISES is a collection of European Union (EU) geoscience educators who meet once every two years to exchange ideas and research relevant to geoscience higher education in Europe. The 2010 meeting took place September 9-12 in Serres, Greece and was hosted by Dimitris Kotzinos from the Department of Geoinformatics and Surveying at the Technical Education Institute of Serres. One major difference this year was the attendance by two community college educators from the U.S.; it was the first time a two-year college educator had attended and presented.

The 2010 EUGISES meeting was an intimate gathering held in the remote town of Serres at the Elpida Hotel (Elpida is Greek for "hope"). Indeed, hope is precisely what is needed in Greece at the moment, as that country faces its most challenging economic conditions in decades. It was readily apparent that Greece is suffering a major "brain-drain" as its university graduates, the young and educated workforce, seek gainful employment elsewhere in the EU and abroad. The New York Times (9/15/10) printed a short article stating precisely that challenge.

This author (director) and Ann Johnson (associate director) of the National Geospatial Technology Center of Excellence (GeoTech Center), based at Del Mar College in Corpus Christi, Texas, represented the U.S. two-year community college system. We presented the results of the recently completed Department of Labor Geospatial Technology Competency Model (GTCM). Led by GeoTech researcher David DiBiase, of Penn State University's geography department, the GTCM is the definitive set of technical and professional competencies required by workers in the geospatial technology industry, across all industry sectors. One reason EUGISES accepted the paper and presentation from the two-year college GeoTech Center based in the U.S. is the lack of such a unifying document or standard in the EU. Although we generally think of the European Union as leading the world in such high-level policies, this is one area where the U.S. leads the world, thanks to the GTCM.

EUGISES members appreciated not only the GTCM's definitions of geospatial industry worker competencies, but also its implications on guiding educators at all levels from K-12 to college to university. In the U.S., governments are putting extreme pressure on higher education units at all levels to reduce the degree course credit requirements and do a much better job in articulation and preparing workers for "gainful employment." Similarly, the EU is pressuring its own universities for better results in shorter periods of time. Through the Bologna process, the EU is moving forward with requiring all higher education institutions in its 23 member countries to reduce their baccalaureate degrees to a three-year cycle while providing seamless mobility for students between universities, even nations. This daunting task has moved much slower than expected, largely due to a lack of agreement on what precisely constitutes an industry, and the associated workforce competencies. Here is where the GTCM example provides the EU with a successful national model for possible replication.

Given that the major commercial software vendors in the EU are largely American companies (Esri, Intergraph, Smallworld, etc.), the same skills noted in the GTCM are relevant to geospatial workers throughout the EU. Add to this the idea that the Free and Open Source Software for GIS (FOSS4G) movement is growing rapidly in both the U.S. and EU, and you realize that the geospatial industry on both sides of the Atlantic is more alike than dissimilar. The recently concluded 2010 FOSS4G Conference (Directions Magazine coverage by the author) in Barcelona was the largest ever, with nearly 900 delegates. The organizers announced that the 2011 FOSS4G will be held in Denver, where a record number of U.S. higher educators are expected to attend. U.S. companies are beginning to dominate the once exclusively European FOSS4G software industry, meaning the commonality between the U.S. and EU versions of FOSS4G will increase as the industry matures and becomes a global one. This is the case with current commercial geospatial software products, such as ArcGIS 10.

For our Greek hosts (and other EU participants) this harmonizing of U.S. and EU technology worker competencies is particularly relevant. With what may be a decade or more of little or no economic growth, an entire generation of Greek professionals may be seeking employment elsewhere in the world, in booming markets like China or India, or in smaller, more niche markets where demand outpaces supply, such as currently exists in the Netherland's geospatial workforce. The sooner nations and unions, such as the EU, create their own version of the GTCM, the sooner technology workers and students in higher education will be able to cross borders to seek employment or knowledge.


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