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Students at New York City College of Technology train for green manufacturing jobs as part of a TAACCCT-funded program led by Kingsborough Community College.
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It has been more than a year since the first group of community colleges received federal grants through a $2-billion program to train workers for growing and emerging industries.
Most of the grants—which the U.S. Department of Labor are distributing annually over four years—are going to consortia of community colleges so they can leverage resources to make a greater impact in a region or targeted industry. So far, the biggest challenge for two-year colleges that received first-round grants through the Trade Adjustment Assistance Community College and Career Training (TAACCCT) has been coordinating common policies and practices. But the colleges are moving ahead and have already started to implement components of their programs.
“We have accomplished a lot. We have a model. Every school is up and ready,” said Babette Audant, executive director of the Center for Economic and Workforce Development at Kingsborough Community College (KCC).
KCC is leading a consortium of eight colleges in New York City that was awarded nearly $20 million in TAACCCT funds to develop career pathways for dislocated factory workers. As of September, all of the community colleges have put grant-funded training programs in place.
“Working as a consortium, it took us a lot longer to put into place the policies, database management structure and communications structures than we anticipated. That said, we have a structure we hope to be able to sustain long after this grant,” Audant said.
“Once it gets under way, it’s going to have enduring value and really change the culture of the institution,” she said. “This grant is a game changer for CUNY.” (The participating colleges are part of the City University of New York system, or CUNY.)
Training for in-demand jobs
The colleges in the New York consortium are providing basic academic skills and English language instruction. Students are earning stackable credentials that lead to immediate jobs along with college credits. However, the training programs vary widely among the college partners.
“That is part of the challenge. We’re developing policies that work across a very broad consortium,” Audant said.
A deeper dive into this year's TAACCCT-funded initiatives
For example, KCC, LaGuardia Community College and Hostos Community College are developing a program to train community health-care workers. Other training programs look to produce employees for a wide range of in-demand jobs, such as medical billing specialists, health information technicians, cooks, hotel clerks, teaching assistants, computer control programmers, mechanical engineering technicians and small business owners.
Representatives from hospitals and other health-care providers have visited the colleges to talk to students about the shifting career landscape in health care. Among the trends students should prepare for: an increased focus on electronic records, at-home care, customer service and a greater focus on care coordination.
“Everybody, from physicians to people who do intake, have to work more as a team. We see this as a great opportunity,” Audant said.
Overall, the consortium is expected to serve more than 2,100 students over three years. About half of them will be placed in jobs and half will enroll in college, although there will be a lot of overlap.
At KCC so far, two cohorts, each with 18 students, have completed training in food service and half of them have been placed in jobs. The retention rate was a remarkable 95 percent, said Audant, who notes that in the past retention rates in food service have been as low as10 percent.
In Virginia, Tidewater Community College (TCC) is making solid progress in the TAACCCT-funded project it is coordinating as the leader of consortium comprising all the state’s community colleges. Its $24-million TAACCCT grant focuses on training displaced workers for new careers in health sciences. The goal is to improve retention and achievement rates and reduce the time to complete a credential.
Quick links to 2011 TAACCCT colleges
Through the initiative, the consortium has hired 60 certified career coaches to carry out “intrusive” or “active outreach” and coordinate experiential learning opportunities. The group will also use tap technology to monitor students' progress. An automated early warning system will flag students at-risk of falling behind academically.
According to Daniel DeMarte, vice president for student learning and chief academic officer at TCC, the college has made the most progress implementing a new module-based developmental education curriculum. The goal is to have students complete developmental reading, writing and math requirements in one year, and to increase from 25 percent to 33 percent the number of developmental students graduating or transferring within four years.
So far, just under 25,000 students have taken new developmental math modules, DeMarte said. Placement tests in English were implemented in October, and students enrolling next spring will be placed in new developmental English modules.
TCC is also moving on a new health sciences career studies certificate that combines for-credit prerequisites for associate degree programs with noncredit healthcare workforce training. This program will run on a compressed schedule, so qualified students could begin working in healthcare immediately while simultaneously earning a degree that will lead to a higher-paying job.
“It’s a massive project, so it takes time to get everything in place,” DeMarte said. “Having 24 partners involved makes it a fairly large operation. Things can never move fast enough.”
Another challenge has been finding staff with the skills needed to manage the project and to find people interested in temporary work, since it's funding is for three years, he said.
Innovations in biofuels
Alpena Community College (ACC) in Michigan, which is one of the few stand-alone TAACCCT recipients, has focused its $2.8-million grant on providing training related to green jobs and clean energy. One project involves training workers for a prototype plant in Alpena that is developing a process to make car fuel from cellulosic ethanol, which is distilled when manufacturing wood products. So far, the college has trained 20 employees at a plant opened by American Process Inc. with federal stimulus funding.
ACC is the first community college to develop a training program for that type of biofuel.
Abstracts for 2011 TAACCCT projects
“We certainly hope to do more training on this,” MacMaster said. “Making wood ethanol is a much trickier process than corn ethanol, but if it could be commercialized, it would be a huge advance. If cellulosic ethanol production becomes feasible, we’re definitely on the front end of that curve.”
Another TAACCCT-funded project at ACC calls for the development of an associate degree in marine technology in partnership with the Thunder Bay Underwater National Marine Sanctuary on Lake Huron. The first group of 20 students started this summer.
“It was a galvanizing experience for them,” as they dived among the more than 100 well-preserved shipwrecks in the bay, McMaster said.
The program focuses on training workers to build, maintain and operate submersible, remotely operated vehicles that are used in water-quality research. There are plenty of jobs for people with those skills, especially in the offshore oil and gas industry, he said. ACC is establishing partnerships with several employers, including Oceaneering International Inc., based in Houston.
The third TAACCCT-funded project involves a partnership with the Michigan National Guard, DTE Energy and Michigan Works!, a one-stop service center, to train veterans for entry-level jobs in the natural gas industry. The bootcamp-style training, delivered by AAC faculty, started in October with 22 students at Camp Grayling, a National Guard training facility. The program is noncredit, but students can earn an industry credential.
“These are things Alpena Community College wouldn’t have been able to do without the TAACCCT funding,” McMaster said.
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