When Tesla announced it would build the world’s largest battery factory just outside Reno, Nevada, nearby Truckee Meadows Community College (TMCC) immediately jumped into action.
Tesla partner Panasonic manufactures the lithium battery cells that run Tesla cars at the plant, called the Gigafactory. It created thousands of manufacturing jobs that needed to be filled in a short period of time.
TMCC developed an open-entry program that allowed its 30-student capacity to expand to 400 students, all with the same staffing level. The Panasonic Preferred Pathway (P3) program is flexible, allowing students — many who work in the tourism industry while taking classes — to create their own schedule to fit their needs. Students view lectures and reading materials online, complete assessments, and then come into the lab to learn hands-on.
Staying in sync
As new industries require new workforce needs, community colleges can be at the forefront of training the employees of the future. Staff at TMCC were able to develop the P3 program so quickly thanks to their relationship with government officials.
“We always stay in touch with our economic development people in the state and regional offices for our particular service area to make sure we’re in sync with what’s needed and what’s coming up,” says Kyle Dalpe, dean of technical science at TMCC.
The college is currently looking ahead at emerging needs in unmanned aerial systems and data centers.
The Gigafactory is an example of a successful partnership between the government, employers and community colleges. The state of Nevada dedicates training funds in order to help companies build their workforce. Panasonic promotes TMCC in its recruiting events and marketing materials and also provides the college with tools to increase its capacity.
“This is a great model of what a business-education partnership should be,” says Barbara Walden, director of applied technology at TMCC.
Jo Alice Blondin, president at Clark State Community College and board president of the National Council for Workforce Education, recently heard a keynote speaker at a conference refer to community colleges as the first responders of education.
“We are the first responders in terms of us certainly helping students and employers identify and solve immediate workforce issues, but we’re also the first responders in thinking about what’s way down the line that we need to develop in order to ensure that the workforce has a pipeline of skilled labor,” she says. “We sometimes forget that our colleges are at the forefront and cutting edge of workforce training.”
Blondin points to an example from her own campus of how traditional programs can be adjusted to make them more relevant to jobs of the future. Clark State in Springfield, Ohio, is known for its agriculture program. But despite one in seven jobs in the state being in agriculture, it was getting challenging to recruit into the program due to competing technology degrees.
“We worked with some of our economic development partners and employers in the region and we developed a precision agriculture program, which leverages technology like sensors and unmanned aerial vehicles to increase crop yields,” Blondin says.