community colleges play vital role in helping workers advance their skills in a knowledge economy
Scott Steward lost his job at JPMorgan Chase in 2009. Facing dismal prospects in a tough economy, he began to look closely at Columbus State Community College’s (CSCC
) Business Analyst program. Despite having a four-year college degree, an MBA and years of experience as an analyst, he needed the certification to boost his resume.
"The main reason job seekers need a professional certification is to get an interview,” says Steward, who calls himself a “young feeling 55.” Employers frequently scan resumes looking for specific skills rather than educational experiences, and highlighting a professional certification makes you stand out from the crowd, he says. But as it turns out, he wasn’t meant to be a student.
“I learned that I was actually experienced enough to teach it,” says Steward. “I proposed that to Columbus State and they agreed. I became the Columbus State certified instructor for students with little experience to learn the profession."
Before long, Nationwide Insurance
, which is headquartered in Columbus, offered Steward a position as a business analyst. Yet he has continued teaching at CSCC when he can because he enjoys working with students who are eager to learn.
Today, Steward claims that 75 percent of his former students, all of whom were unemployed at the time, have found jobs. Two joined him at Nationwide. Their coursework at CSCC played no small part in the fact that they were hired.
The economy has radically changed since the days when many high school graduates found their way to the closest steel mill and landed a good-paying job. Today, more than 60 percent of jobs require some level of post-secondary education. Community colleges play a vital role in helping displaced and inexperienced workers develop the skills necessary to gain a foothold in the knowledge economy.
Community colleges across Ohio are playing an invaluable role in workforce transition efforts. Columbus State, Sinclair
Community College in Dayton and Owens
Community College in Toledo have all created departments dedicated to helping workers, both young and old, gain the skills and accompanying certifications needed to compete in today's knowledge economy.
“It’s projected that 65% of the jobs over the next ten years will be in middle skill occupations,” says Cheryl Hay, Director of Workforce Development
at CSCC. “That’s an area in which the community college excels -- developing individuals with a combination of technical skill concentration and 21st
A 2011 report entitled “Pathways to Prosperity: Meeting the Challenge of Preparing Young Americans for the 21st
Century” by the Harvard Graduate School of Education claims a whopping 30 percent of jobs in the next 10 years will require an associate degree or a post-secondary occupational credential, not necessarily a full-blown four year degree. The rise in these middle-skill jobs – engineers, technicians, paralegals, computer specialists – are given direct attention at community colleges that regularly assess the needs of businesses.
“We offer over 120 certificate and degree programs that are built upon the expressed needs of industry,” explains Hay. But Hay stresses that it’s definitely also a team effort. “The community college does not do it alone. We need the community
and all of their various expertise to help our learners succeed.”
The relationship between community colleges and industry is a symbiotic one. The community college needs the employer to identify their industry needs and local businesses need the community college in order to provide workers with no experience or fresh out of high school with the skills to work in their industry.
“Two programs that were designed by us with business were the BioScience Technology Certificate developed in conjunction with BioOhio and their member businesses and the LogisticsART program developed in conjunction with the Columbus Chamber and their regional logistics council,” says Hay.
Adam Murka, Director of Public Information at Sinclair agrees. He adds, “We at Sinclair are very closely aligned to the needs of employers in both business and government. These relationships throughout the broader community enable Sinclair’s Workforce Development program to understand and respond to strategic growth industries and their related workforce needs.”
Steward saw this first hand at CSCC. “I later learned that Nationwide executives helped to advise CSCC on the information technology needs in Central Ohio.”
Designing programs that are specific to the needs of the community allows workers to make an easier transition into the new economy. Carl Dettmer, Director of Program Development at Owens Workforce and Community Services
, shares the response he’s received from businesses in the Toledo area.
“The response from business is positive and often relates to the increasing burden required of companies to find skilled workers.” Hay says manufacturing, maintenance and multi-craft roles have been the toughest to fill.
“Many of those individuals took early-out packages when the economy flattened in 2008 and there were not a lot of folks in the pipeline,” she says. That shortage is especially difficult to fill considering the stereotypical image many have for manufacturing. Yet Hay insists those stereotypes are a thing of the past.
“They work in clean, highly sophisticated manufacturing facilities,” she says. “Workers in these roles make good wages starting at $38,000 up to $55,000 and coursework for these positions is available at Columbus State.”
Rex Reimer, Director of Operations for Applied Energy Technologies
in Maumee, has seen firsthand the ability of community colleges to design a program specific to business needs. “Getting training coordinated has always consumed a large amount of our resources. The staff at Owens Workforce and Community Services took all the hassle out of the process and allowed us focus on our daily tasks."
The difficulty of the program varies depending on the certificate being attained. To obtain a BioScience Technology Certificate at CSCC, a student has to take three semesters of classes Monday through Friday at a lab and attend a career fair. For the LogisticsART entry program, training is three weeks followed by employment. The Business Analyst program that Steward taught at CSCC consists of 120 hours of classes followed by two months spent securing employment.
How successful are they? Hay breaks it down. “For our dislocated Business Analyst workforce program of 12 graduates, eight secured employment. From our LogisticsART program, where we have graduated 733 out of the entry warehouse and distribution program, 74 percent have been placed. In BioOhio, our pilot program of six resulted in five placements and the sixth starting his own business.” Hay cites studies showing that programs such as this one can reduce regional unemployment rates by as much as 2-3 percentage points.
Businesses aren’t the only ones grateful for workforce transition services. Dislocated workers who apply for these programs are getting a second chance at employment, and many now sing the praises of local community colleges.
“I was very impressed with CSCC and their Workforce Development team's organization and connections to the local business community in Central Ohio,” boasts Steward. “They take the time to listen to business leaders and discover the talent gaps, then go out and build programs to fill the gaps.”
As a result, dislocated workers with experience can redirect their skill set toward in-demand fields without having to go back to square one with an entry-level job.
“Community Colleges are in a position to be much more flexible than larger universities, public or private,” says Steward. “They have an understanding of the differences between core education and professional skills training, and they have the ability to deliver both well. Students can leave these programs with a certification, which employers will value and recognize."
Photo 1: Owens Community College
Photo 2: Columbus State Community College
Photo 3: Scott Steward
Photos 4-7: Columbus State Community College
Photos 8-10: Sinclair Community College