Rochester college faces a post-Kodak moment

As Eastman Kodak’s slid into bankruptcy, disrupting the economy of Rochester, New York,  Monroe Community College remade its workforce development programs to help its town recover, reports Community College Week.

Kodak, Xerox and Bausch & Lomb once accounted for 60 percent of Rochester’s workforce. That’s now down to 5 percent.

“We went from the Big 3 with thousands of workers to lots of companies with fewer than 100 employees,” says Anne Kress, MCC’s president. Because smaller companies couldn’t afford to train their workers, the college became a “convener,” working with industry clusters instead of individual companies.

“It’s a natural role for community colleges to take a leadership position in responding to workforce development needs,” Kress said. “These needs change frequently. We are naturally positioned to get people around the table to address them.”

Kress tapped Todd M. Oldham, then associate vice president of Corporate & Continuing Education at Clark College in Vancouver, Wash., to head the new workforce division at MCC. His charge: rebuild MCC’s long dormant bridges to business, industry and economic development sectors and develop strategies to respond to local economic development and training needs — all without constructing just another administrative silo isolated from the traditional academic functions of the college.

MCC is creating pathways to middle-skill jobs in fields such as computer technology, health care and advanced manufacturing, Oldham says.

Jim Sydor, a 1971 MCC graduate and owner of Stefan Sydor Optics, is helping the college strengthen its optical systems technology program. “Rochester is a big optics town, because of Eastman Kodak and Bausch & Lomb,” he says. But MCC’s optics program withered when Kodak began laying off workers. Students didn’t realize there are 85 smaller optics companies in town looking for qualified workers. With a $250,000 gift from Sydor, MCC rewrote the optics curriculum, bought new equipment and recruited students.

MCC provides a summer career prep program for high school students as well as MCC Career Coach, a web-based search tool showing connections between areas of study and local job opportunities.