Business partners key to community college workforce development

MI-BESTWith workforce development looking to be an issue for some time to come, community colleges have carved themselves a nice niche to facilitate partnerships and educate based on the growing demands in the workplace.

Strong working partnerships with businesses as well as university-to-university ones like CCBC and Towson are part of the effort to meet workforce development needs. Cutting-edge education and training models with up-to-date equipment and market-viable curricula, as well as the affordability and flexibility community colleges can offer make them a perfect landing spot for workforce development solutions.

MI-BEST is just one of many programs community colleges have established in order to, not only fill available jobs, but make sure they are being filled with qualified, trained candidates.

With the help of Maryland Workforce Corporation, MI-BEST, which parallels the Washington State Board for Community and Technical Colleges’ I-BEST program, gives students basic skills instruction along with the opportunity to achieve a GED. Annie E. Casey Foundation awarded grants to five regional community colleges to fund pilot programs.

The Community College of Baltimore County launched a program in January, offering students the opportunity to enter the fields of building maintenance and construction, while Anne Arundel Community College recently announced new programs where students can receive training for in-demand jobs as hotel front desk clerks or entry-level accounting technicians.

CCBC president Sandra Kurtinitis told the GBC’s Baltimore County Business Advisory Council on Feb. 23 the school’s program brings discipline experts and academic experts together in the same classroom to produce certified apprenticeships, which address one of the larger issues employers have with the current workforce.

Kurtinitis said CCBC mirrors the needs of the workforce community with instructional clusters based on industry, including technology, transportation, construction and manufacturing. Businesses sit on advisory committees for each cluster to give the school feedback and offer revisions in order to form programs that better fit their needs.

Kurtinitis said CCBC offers classes on Saturdays, before dawn and way after the sun has set. With only 11 percent of students arriving directly from high school, adaptability is a must.

The average age of credit-course takers at CCBC, according to Kurtinitis, is 29 years old. For continuing education, it’s even older. More than 100 programs and more than 1,000 certificates are constantly under review in order to make decisions on whether they are meeting both students’ and regional employers’ needs.

Though programs like MI-BEST address many of the issues presented by businesses in the region, there is a still a glaring concern from their perspective on employees’ possession of soft skills. Defined as showing up to work on time, dressing appropriately and collaborating with coworkers, employers feel no one institution is taking responsibility for embedding these skills in students.

Kurtinitis said CCBC is looking to incorporate these skills training into the general education courses students are required to take, but without any formal focus, employers worry their new hires will become less able to survive in the professional environment.

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