Job Training for the 21st Century

Job Training for the 21st Century

July 21, 2015 – The modern economy places heavy demands on businesses.

Technology is ever-changing. The marketplace can move in unexpected directions. Companies need to be nimble and flexible. Employees need up-to-date training in the latest skills. A pipeline of well-trained recruits is essential to replenish the workforce as baby boomers retire.

In all this, Nebraska’s community colleges can play a vital role. They provide a linchpin for workforce development.

Among the standouts are two major training initiatives soon to get underway at Metropolitan Community College and Northeast Community College.

These initiatives will be flexible and adaptable, conducted in close cooperation with industry. A particular focus will be hands-on problem-solving and multidisciplinary collaboration — essential factors for 21st-century skills training.

Metro’s new Center for Advanced and Emerging Technologies (CAET) will help students work with the ever-growing linkages between manufacturing and information technology.

For decades, manufacturing workers generally were “operators” of machinery, notes Tom Pensabene, executive director of Metro’s Workforce Innovation Division. Now, he says, their skill set demands are far more complex — they’re “technicians,” required to know as much about information technology as the mechanical workings of their equipment.

Information technology also has become a big part of the building trades, which is why IT training will be a major part of the curriculum for Metro’s new Construction Education Center, to be located beside CAET.

Metro’s initiative — in the form of a three-building, $90 million investment at its Fort Omaha campus, with half the funding to come through fundraising — also will include collaborative, multi-disciplinary facilities for innovative manufacturing, funded in part by a grant from the National Science Foundation.

To boost entrepreneurship, Metro is creating a business accelerator called Innovation Sandbox, in partnership with Omaha IT firm Aviture.

These Metro training programs will emphasize flexibility — adapting to technological changes and changing workplace needs — and regular collaboration with Nebraska employers, says Jim Grotrian, Metro’s executive vice president. “Every company we’re talking to is talking about innovating,” he says.

Meanwhile, Northeast Community College is building a 66,000-square-foot Applied Technology Building that will feature five training laboratories, in close cooperation with area employers including Trane and Black Hills Energy (heating and air conditioning), Snap-On (tools and technologies for the automotive sector) and Lincoln Electric (advanced welding systems).

“These labs will truly be state of the art, thanks to our industry partnerships,” says Eric Johnson, associate vice president for the college’s Center for Enterprise.

Northeast has seen great success in what it calls “manufacturing bootcamps” — 72-hour instructional experiences that provide trainees with important first-tier competencies and set them on a flexible path for higher levels of certification and credits.

In addition, Northeast offers an innovative “Build Your Own Degree” structure that allows its information technology students the opportunity to decide the path that will best suit them in the job market. The college expanded from two concentrations in IT to five that allow students to earn certificates, with classes and labs held in the refurbished Kenneth J. Echtenkamp building.

Dream it, Do It, an effort to develop the manufacturing workforce in Nebraska since 2007, notes that “today’s innovation-based manufacturing and related businesses require a technical workforce with better applied science and math, team building and problem-solving skills.”

It’s encouraging to see Nebraska community colleges embrace innovative ideas to meet that need for the state’s future.

Original Article Posted on Omaha World Herald: