Plenty of innovative ideas to share

Rep. Virginia Foxx, chair of the House Education and the Workforce Committee, opens the committee's inaugural education and workforce innovation forum and showcase.

Typically when a local business or industry approaches a community college to help develop a skilled workforce, it results in an associate degree that requires students to wait until the next semester to enroll in its courses, and it can them take several years to complete.

That’s time many businesses seeking to immediately fill jobs cannot afford.

Like many two-year colleges, Lakeshore Technical College (LTC) in Cleveland, Wisconsin, faced such a challenge when manufacturers approached it to help find and train skilled employees. Its response was the MicroMatch Upskilling program.

Assess skills, offer seminars

The demand for electro-mechanical technicians who can run, program and repair robots is growing at an incredible rate, LTC President Paul Carlsen told members of the House Education and the Workforce Committee during an education and workforce innovation forum and showcase on Wednesday. The college worked with business partners such as Sargento Foods, Bemis Manufacturing and Rockline Industries to define the skill set needed for electro-mechanical technicians.

Lakeshore Technical College President Paul Carlsen discusses the college’s MicroMatch Upskilling program.

First, LTC assessed the skills gaps of incumbent workers. Using the test results, the college created five short-term training seminars to fill the gaps. Employees could select and “stack” non-credit seminars that ranged from eight to 24 hours, focusing only on the seminars they needed to upskill. When the college deployed the training model, it trained just under 100 incumbent workers within four months, Carlsen said.

He added that he would like LTC to open the model to other workers.

“As we move forward, we would look to expand this opportunity to folks who are not in the manufacturing industry,” Carlsen said. “MicroMatch Upskilling is perfect for someone in a low-paying service job or general labor job or just any under-skilled adult ready for a career change because it allows them to build off their existing skill set and take only those targeted seminars needed to move from a minimum wage to a middle-class manufacturing job.”

Across the board

Chris Bare of Wilkes Community College highlights the college’s efforts to have a skilled workforce ready for GE Aviation, which was building a facility in the college’s service area.

Representatives from other community colleges and related programs also detailed for the committee how their programs are serving local and national workforce needs.

  • Wilkes Community College in North Carolina worked with local partners to reach out to the community to educate it about the skills needed for jobs with GE Aviation, which was preparing to open a new facility in the area.
  • The Virginia Community College System is a partner in the Virginia Space Grant Consortium, which serves to foster STEM skills through internships and other hands-on programs.
  • The South Carolina Technical College System’s Apprenticeship Carolina program has seen huge growth since it started in 2007: the number of participating companies has increased from 95 to 965, with the number apprentices jumping from 777 to nearly 29,000 in a variety of sectors, from construction and plumbing to health care and information technology.
  • Augusta Technical College in Georgia teams with the nonprofit to run a 12-week code boot camp — funded by federal Workforce Innovation Opportunity Act grants — that helps participants start new careers as junior developers.
  • Wichita State University this month finalized its affiliation with WSU Tech to offer more strategic programming and education opportunities from the “GED to the Ph.D.,” as well as providing a seamless transition from associate to bachelor’s degree programs.

What can help

Several of the speakers outlined for committee members what they need to continue or to grow their success. LTC’s Carlsen said in his prepared remarks that opening federal student aid, such as Pell grants, to short-term, non-credit training programs would help many residents in his area upgrade their skills for their current job or for another career. He also noted that the success of programs such as MicroMatch UpSkilling are not captured in federal data.

“While graduation rate may be an appropriate indicator for some colleges based on their unique role, scope and mission, the nearly 100 workers trained and upskilled through this program are not captured by this standard college metric,” Carlsen said, referring to information gathered for the federal Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System.

About the Author

Matthew Dembicki
is editor of Community College Daily and serves as publications director for the American Association of Community Colleges.