Mississippi: Skilled workers draw skilled jobs

Eastern Mississippi’s “Golden Triangle” has drawn “high-wage, high-skill jobs to an area with very low median income, poorly ranked schools, and a history of farming and low-end factories,” writes James Fallows in The Atlantic.

Laid-off workers from packing houses and minimum-wage garment plans weren’t ready for jobs in “a billion-dollar modern steel mill or an Airbus helicopter factory,” he writes. But East Mississippi Community College, or EMCC, stepped in to train local people for skilled jobs so they can share in the new prosperity.

Raj Shaunak, born in Kenya of Indian ancestry, built a manufacturing business with family members in Starkville, Mississippi. When it was sold in 1989, he began teaching adult-education courses and math, then went on to workforce development.

EMCC advertises its job training options and places students in “skills-based pathways,” Raj explains. Students are assessed, “brought up to speed in areas of weakness” and trained in the skills they’ll need to be employable.

These include precision measurement, ability to read graphs and blueprints, “lean manufacturing” procedures, teamwork and flexibility, trouble-shooting, “continuous improvement,” and all the other traits you’ve heard about if you’ve visited any advanced factory in Japan, Europe, China, or the US.

In the EMCC training facilities, students work on real versions, or sometimes scaled-down models, of the machinery and products being made in the local factories. I saw them dealing with real engines from the nearby PACCAR factory, and real computer-controlled machine tools.

A new Yokohama Tire assembly line will need 500 workers. EMCC hopes to train as many as 5,000 candidates.

“What happens to the ones who don’t get hired?” Raj asks, anticipating the question. “They will have much higher skills, and they will be more marketable—either when Yokohama opens its next phase [another 500 jobs], or anywhere else.”

“We cannot guarantee a job for anyone. We are in the business of training people to be part of a qualified pool of applicants. We’re trying to move people from dependence to enterprise and independence.”

Also as part of the Yokohama deal, all of the company’s own direct hires—”its engineers, its PhDs, its technicians, everyone except the CEO!” as Raj put it—will also go through an EMCC program.

“When you are competing for businesses, you have to have the infrastructure, you have to have the quality of life, you have to have the land,” Raj told Fallows. “But most places that are competing have those things. We now have a critical mass of trained and trainable workers. Companies have told us that this makes the difference.”

To expand training for advanced manufacturing jobs, EMCC is opening a $38 million “Communiversity” to house 15 manufacturing, technology and engineering educational bays, reports The Dispatch.

Job training vs. art history?

Speaking at a General Electric plant in Wisconsin, President Obama said learning skilled manufacturing or the trades pays as well as earning an art history degree.

Now, nothing wrong with an art history degree — I love art history. (Laughter.) So I don’t want to get a bunch of emails from everybody. (Laughter.) I’m just saying you can make a really good living and have a great career without getting a four-year college education as long as you get the skills and the training that you need. (Applause.)

Hackles were raised, writes Ann Althouse.

Arts education teaches critical thinking, responded Linda Downs, who directs the College Art Association.

Obama is promoting “job-driven training,” which means training for jobs that exist. That does sound like a good idea.

Vice President Joe Biden will lead a review of the many federal job training programs. The Government Accountability Office reviewed federal job training programs in 2011, but perhaps more have been created since then.

Teaching entrepreneurship

Quite a few community colleges run business incubators that provide low-cost space and mentoring to start-ups, writes Matt Reed. This fits with the workforce and economic development mission.

At the NACCE (National Association for Community College Entrepreneurship) conference, several speakers called for making entrepreneurship “a general education outcome, like effective writing or quantitative reasoning,” he writes.

 The idea is that the job market has changed, and that if the economy is going to thrive in the future, it will thrive through innovation. Better to train students to hang out their own shingles than to train them for jobs that no longer exist. 

Reed finds “the idea of entrepreneurship as a general education outcome . . .  both tempting and unconvincing.”

. . . entrepreneurship should not be confined to business majors.  Many great businesses don’t start because someone wanted to create a business; they start because someone falls in love with an idea, and wants to make a living with that idea.  Maintaining the atmosphere of creativity on a campus . . . (is) necessary for the more straightforwardly economic mission to succeed.  

Yet community colleges’ experience with business incubators doesn’t mean they know how to create entrepreneurs. Incubators often work with startups that aren’t especially innovative, Reed points out. The guy starting a taco stand wants to make a living and be his own boss, not change the world.

At the NACCE conference, Tressie McMillan Cottom made the underappreciated point that there’s another category of entrepreneur that we tend to ignore.  In many cities, there’s a fairly active gray-market economy of low-income people running informal businesses out of their homes.  These can be childcare, hair care, car repair, catering, or any number of other things.  The people running these businesses often have limited capital and limited access to, or understand of, the rules of the aboveground economy.  

Community colleges could help gray-market entrepreneurs grow into the aboveground economy by “making legible the tangle of tax rules, licensing rules, employer-employee rules, and the like.”

Revving up for Detroit’s rebound

Detroit is losing jobs and people. The city is bankrupt. Hopes for an economic rebound center on job training provided by the Wayne County Community College District (WCCCD, reports Community College Daily.

“When economic times get tough, community colleges do much more because we have to,” said Shawna Forbes, vice chancellor for WCCCD’s School of Continuing Education and Workforce Development.

Many manufacturing companies want employees with associate degrees. WCCCD worked with Detroit Employment Solutions Corp. (DESC) to select 100 people for a 19-week program that combines job training with internships at local companies. “We’re looking at quickly moving people along a career pathway,” said WCCCD Vice Chancellor George Swan. “People are not going to get a certificate and that’s it.”

WCCCD is “incredibly important in job growth,” and the planning and implementation of the strategic plan is clearly informed by the role the college can play, said Dan Kinkead, director of Detroit Future City.

The district is stepping up job training in growth areas such as advanced manufacturing, information technology and health data management.

A new science center specializes in training surgical technicians (pictured), dental assistants, phlebotomy technicians and nurses. The center also offers health exams to community residents.

Last year, WCCCD created a fast-track “IT boot camp” to train people for jobs with Infosys, Compuware, Quicken and other companies. “The program focused on people who worked in office automation or technology in the automobile industry and had been displaced or had worked with older computer systems and now need to upgrade their skills,” reports Community College Daily.

The college will open a center this winter for cybersecurity training.

Right Skills Now, launched last year, enables students to earn certifications in metalworking, then go on to train on advanced manufacturing equipment. Employers provide advice and work experience.

. . . the college is also gearing up for training people to work on a new light rail line that will link downtown Detroit to Pontiac, Mich. Construction on the highly automated, computer-based system is expected to start this spring, and there will be jobs for people trained in electromechanical systems, as well as signaling and communications systems.

New bus and shuttle systems will be linked with the light rail line, and a new high-speed rapid bus system, running in dedicated lanes, will link Detroit to Jackson, Mich. Two cohorts of 30 students each are in a WCCCD program on the operation and maintenance of these systems.

Detroit has seen growth in recent years in manufacturing, logistics and food and beverage processing. Quicken Loans moved to downtown Detroit in 2010. But the city lacks a skilled workforce. Twenty percent of residents haven’t completed high school.

Entrepreneurship for all

Entrepreneurship isn’t just for educational elites, reports Community College Week. Innovation Fund America — a joint project of the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation and Ohio’s Lorain County Community College — is helping open-access colleges back local entrepreneurs.

Lorain’s foundation founded the IFA in 2007 as Northeast Ohio struggled to replace manufacturing jobs.

The IFA offers support to new and young businesses through pre-seed stage access to capital, intensive coaching and mentoring, with internship and educational opportunities for students. Since its founding, the IFA has invested nearly $6.5 million in about 100 companies, creating more than 300 jobs and providing more than 150 paid internships for LCCC students

The IFA will fund pilots at Catawba Valley Community College (NorthCarolina), Long Beach City College (California) and Johnson County Community College (Kansas).

Kauffman focuses on entrepreneurship education. The idea is catching on, reports Community College Week. The National Association of Community College Entrepreneurship, founded in 2002, now counts more than 300 college members.

Catawba Valley’s community has been hit hard by the collapse of furniture manufacturing and textile mills. The college is moving from job training to job creation.

Last month, the college announced the start of Innovation Fund North Carolina, which is planning to award $1.2 million in grants and loans to high-tech startups across the state over the next year. The future of the state economy, said college President Gordon Hinshaw, now depends on new business startups and small businesses. The grants will focus on startups related to agriculture, advanced manufacturing, health care and information technology.

Money will go to businesses in the “pre-seed” stage, those that have exhausted their personal resources, don’t have investors or venture capital backing but need capital to grow. . . . Businesses must agree to intense coaching and mentoring and agree to take on students for paid internships.

Workforce development experience makes community colleges a natural place for entrepreneurship initiatives, Hinshaw said. “Our boots are on the ground every day. We are charged with making connections with our citizens. That’s our job.”

No community college, no future

Without a local community college, Erie County, Pennsylvania is losing industry and skilled jobs,writes Mandy Zatynski on Education Sector. Industry won’t invest until Erie invests in training its younger generation.

GE Transportation decided to open a new locomotive plant in Fort Worth in 2011, rather than expanding in Erie, which lost 1,050 jobs. A Forth Worth community college will train machinists and welders in four weeks for jobs in the new factory.

Erie has long fallen short in providing the sort of high-tech training a corporation like GE requires. Recently, 220 employers who responded to an Erie Regional Chamber and Growth Partnership survey said they had almost 2,000 open jobs, but lacked enough skilled workers to fill them. Destination Erie, a consortium formed to revitalize the area’s economy, has already identified this jobs-skills mismatch as one of the region’s top roadblocks to economic growth.

GE will lay off 950 machinists, many with only on-the-job training, adding to the county’s unemployment rate.  But laid-off workers have few postsecondary options other than pursuing a bachelor’s degree.  Many of the 2,000 open jobs don’t require a four-year degree, but do require the kind of training community colleges provide.

More than 41 percent of Erie workers conclude their education with a high school diploma, in part because of “the limited and overpriced post-secondary options that cater only to those seeking white-collar work,” writes Zatynski.

 Penn State Behrend and Mercyhurst University officials are turning more attention to two-year programs, but for the average displaced worker, the costs of these programs are often prohibitive. Annual tuition at Behrend reaches almost $14,000 per year, and tuition at Mercyhurst is the highest in the county at $29,037. Its North East campus charges about half as much, but for someone who is unemployed, these are simply not realistic prices.

The county’s six for-profit colleges advertise attractive educational programs for health care and information technology, but these schools are graduating students with unmanageable debt. Student loan default rates among the area’s for-profit schools are as high as 31 percent, according to the National Center for Education Statistics, indicating that these graduates are unable to find sufficient work to repay their loans.

In short, none of the educational offerings in Erie County provides the flexibility or affordability of a community college, an option that Erie County Council dismissed in 2010 even though the state had allocated table games revenue to help start such an institution.

“When International Paper closed its plant (in 2001), a county-commissioned report spelled economic doom if leaders didn’t establish a community college or otherwise invest in its workforce,” Zatynski writes. “Twelve years later, the picture looks even worse.”

Massachusetts links colleges, employers

Massachusetts’ 15 community colleges are working with industry on workforce development with the help of a $20 million federal grant, reports Worcester Business Journal.

The Massachusetts Community Colleges and Workforce Development Transformation Agenda (MCCWDTA) is redesigning degree and certificate programs in six high-demand industries: health care, biotechnology and life sciences, advanced manufacturing, clean energy and sustainability, information technology and financial services.

Students will brush up on academic skills while training for jobs, said Assistant Secretary of Labor Jane Oates in a speech at Quinsigamond Community College in Worcester. “They cannot sit in a classroom for two semesters because they need to brush up on fractions and decimals,” Oates said.

College and career navigators will help students enroll in courses and use the One‐Stop Career Center on each campus under the new initiative. Industry representatives, college administrators and faculty will design job training programs together.

Lumina: same goals, new strategies

Lumina Foundation’s new strategic plan for 2013-2016 describes new ideas for ways to reach the foundation’s goal:   60 percent of Americans with high-quality degrees, certificates, and other credentials by 2025.  The plan calls for:

Creating new models of student financial support that make college more affordable, make costs more predictable and transparent, provide incentives to increase completion, and align federal, state and institutional policies and programs.

Creating new higher education business and finance models that significantly expand the nation’s capacity to deliver affordable, high-quality education—supported by public finance and regulatory policies that create incentives for, and remove barriers to, innovation.

Creating new systems of quality credentials and credits defined by learning and competencies rather than time, clear and transparent pathways to students, high-quality learning, and alignment with workforce needs and trends.

Lumina plans to spend $300 million over the next four years.

“There hasn’t been enough progress on the attainment agenda,” Jamie Merisotis, Lumina’s president, told Inside Higher Ed.

Lumina will also continue to push completion-related efforts at both the state and federal levels. And the foundation’s leadebbrs said federal policy would be crucial in shaping a modern higher education system necessary to encourage the 23 million additional degrees and meaningful credentials needed to hit 60 percent attainment.

They pointed to a desperate need for strong leadership at the federal level on questions about the structure of student aid, quality assurance and accreditation, and the alignment of workforce development and higher education.

Lumina wants to make it easier for students who’ve learned on the job, online or on their own to earn credits for competency.  Officials also are keeping an eye on “emerging forms of credentialing, like certificates issued by massive open online course (MOOC) providers,” notes Inside Higher Ed.  Lumina will add certificates to its Degree Qualifications Profile, which “attempts to establish what constitutes a valuable college degree.”

The workforce development fantasy

President Obama focused on the workforce development mission of community colleges in his State of the Union Speech, calling on community colleges to train two million skilled workers for unfilled jobs.

The next day, Education Secretary Arne Duncan flew to Florida to praise job training programs at Tallahassee Community College.

Workforce development is the flavor of the month, writes Community College Dean. But it’s not as easy as politicians think to turn out skilled workers.

The most predictable lower-level workforce needs are actually the skills we expect students to pick up in their general education courses: effective communication, the ability to see the big picture, enough quantitative skill to know when an answer doesn’t sound right.  Those skills are evergreens, and like evergreens, they take time to grow.

There are always a few local employers who need workers who can be trained quickly, the dean writes. But those jobs get filled by the first or second cohort of trainees.

Many would-be workers need literacy or English as a Second Language classes. Community colleges’ developmental track is geared towards getting students into a degree program.  Adult Basic Education is a better fit, but often is underfunded and can’t meet the demand.

The dean’s advice:

If you want to improve the prospects of the local workforce, start with adult basic education, add short-term training programs, and beef up the classic academic offerings at community colleges for transfer. . . . Otherwise, you’ll just keep cycling people through training programs every few years, every time the economic winds shift.

The second word in “community college” is “college,” the dean points out. Community colleges are in danger of being defined purely as job training centers.

Massachusetts report urges centralization

Massachusetts should expand statewide control of its 15 community colleges argues a new report from the influential Boston Foundation. In the centralized system focused on job training, colleges should be judged and funded based on student performance, the report concluded.

The state’s community colleges “have failed to connect in a systemic way with prospective workforce, economic development and employer partners,” reports Inside Higher Ed.

As a result there is no way to make broad curriculum changes based on workforce needs, it argues, and colleges and community-based groups compete for resources rather than cooperate.

“There are good programs within the community college system, but the system as a whole is under-resourced, overly fragmented, and not well aligned with the needs of Massachusetts employers in the knowledge economy,” said Paul S. Grogan, the foundation’s president, in a written statement.

Virginia’s centralized community college system was offered as a model for Massachusetts.

Community college presidents believe they already collaborate, reports the Boston Globe.

“We think we’re doing a hell of a lot better job than we did in the past,’’ said William Messner, president of Holyoke Community College. “We’re on the case.’’

Job training “what we do,” said Ira Rubenzahl, president of Springfield Technical Community College, who was a panelist for the report’s presentation. “We’ve been doing it for 50 years.’’  “I’m concerned that [the proposed structural changes] will be disruptive at a time when our institutions are fragile.’’

The system needs “radical change,” not “tweaking,” responded Grogan.

Next door in Connecticut, the community colleges will share a state board with the Connecticut State University System, a move that’s not popular with college officials.

“Board consolidation is a trendy idea in some states, particularly when budgets are tight,” notes Inside Higher Ed. Louisiana may merge its higher education boards. A proposal in  Rhode Island would create a single K-12 and higher education board.

Decentralization is on the table in other states, such as Wisconsin, which may separate its flagship university from the rest of the state university system.