An unused 23-acre former community college campus in the middle of Detroit is opening new opportunities for workforce development during the pandemic.
Wayne County Community College District (WCCCD) plans to open its old Northwest Campus site this fall as its new Outdoor Career Training Center, which will provide training for jobs in utilities, demolition, construction trades, trucking and transportation, infrastructure and more. The center will work with WCCCD’s six campuses and other training facilities.
Industry in the area and region, in particular utility and demolition, continue to seek skilled workers, even during the pandemic, said Chancellor Curtis Ivery. However, the district was uncertain if students would continue to enroll in the programs because of concerns about coronavirus.
“Students are reluctant to go back into the classroom, as well as some faculty. This is probably the best possible answer, given the circumstances,” Ivery said.
Getting partners on board
WCCCD previously approached local industry leaders about the idea of the outdoor center, but it gained steam after the pandemic took hold, Ivery said. Consumers Energy and DTE Energy especially thought it had great potential. The companies and others will work with the district on the programs to ensure they align with industry needs.
“As a result, at the end of the day we’re going to provide talent,” Ivery said.
Many of the career programs already require outside training, such as those for utility workers and truck drivers. But WCCCD is open to trying other programs and is interested in exploring entrepreneurial endeavors, Ivery said. For example, the center can serve as a hub for small business and minority business enterprises, he said.
The center, which will open in three weeks, will stay open as long as possible before the weather turns too cold, even if it requires removing snow (which would be part of landscape training). And in the event of inclement weather this fall, the district has access to nearby buildings that it can use.
For other community colleges that may want to explore outdoor options, Ivery recommends they consider collaborating with their partners. WCCCD is fortunate to have the available property, but for other colleges their partners may have some options, too.
The biggest challenge for the project has been all the uncertainties due to the pandemic, which is why it is important to be flexible, Ivery said. The college has to assess almost daily to determine what has changed and what the college is still able to do, he said.
Wait and see
That uncertainty also includes enrollment for the fall.
“We just don’t know. We don’t know how people are going to react,” Ivery said. “Right now, students are enrolling, though not at the level they would have in previous semesters.”
But there’s still time. Ivery noted that many students who normally would leave the area to attend a four-year college are now considering staying local for a semester and possibly attending a community college, Ivery said.
“But we really won’t know what they going to feel like for another three to four weeks,” he said.