Community colleges step up to the challenge
By Stephanie Vozza
Quicken Loans. Hewlett-Packard. GalaxE.Solutions. Fathead.com.
All of these companies have a presence in Metro Detroit. All have growing technology needs. And all are or recently were hiring technology workers. According to Dice.com, the “career hub for tech,” Detroit is the fastest growing metro area for technology job openings. From February 2010 to February 2011, growth was 101 percent — but openings don’t always equate to hirings.
The four companies mentioned above have something else in common: All have had difficulty finding local qualified workers. In fact, some of them banded together and launched ValleytoDetroit.com, a website created to lure laid-off Yahoo! workers from California to Detroit.
“Information technology is the fastest growing sector of jobs in Metro Detroit,” says Sharon Miller, vice chancellor of external affairs for Oakland Community College (OCC). “In fact, we’re growing faster than the Research Triangle and Silicon Valley. There’s a real opportunity to grab the business market, but we have to make sure we have the talent to go with it.”
Recent advancements in technology have the potential to add an additional 12,500 IT jobs in Detroit by 2015, according to International Data Corp., a Framingham, MA-based information technology consulting firm. A report released in September 2011 by the Center for Michigan found that Michigan universities and colleges are graduating 20 percent too few computer and math professionals, 14 percent too few health care professionals and 3 percent too few engineers for the jobs that open each year.
Bridging the gap
In his Dec. 1, 2011, Special Message on Developing and Connecting Michigan’s Talent, Governor Rick Snyder acknowledged this gap and said: “Today, too few workers have the skills needed to meet the demands of employers in the new economy. Despite an unemployment rate of 10.6 percent, thousands of jobs remain unfilled in Michigan … [A]n increasingly technology-driven economy requires advanced skills that many of our workers do not have.”
To help bridge the gap, area community colleges are jumping in, becoming the unsung heroes in workforce development. With the ability to be nimble, they are quickly offering training in a variety of programs by partnering with local industries that are looking for specific skills.
“We’re seeing a groundswell of more businesses approaching us,” says Joseph Petrosky, dean of engineering and advanced technology at Macomb Community College (MCC). “More and more businesses are coming to us saying, ‘I’ve got to hire people with these skills.’ Sometimes we surprise them in the fact that we offer a lot of customized training. We can respond quickly to these kinds of needs.”
OCC is seeing the same requests. “Today’s manufacturing environments now call for advanced manufacturing skill sets,” Miller says. “It’s much more sophisticated than it used to be. The majority of our new programs were created to answer the demands of local businesses — employer-driven needs.”
For example, OCC received requests from area companies to offer a Mechatronics Systems Technology program, which is a combination of mechanical, electronic, computer, software, control and systems design engineering used to design and manufacture products.
“We developed a program and offer it at our Auburn Hills campus,” says Miller. “This technology fits several different layers within the automotive supplier community. Building the program was natural for us, and we offer specialization after core training.”
Mark Pogliano, assistant dean of occupational programs at Schoolcraft College, says he listens to industry needs when designing new programs. “We are always tweaking our current course offerings,” he says. “The beauty of what we have to offer is that we can quickly address the needs of a local business and then grow those offerings into degreed programs.”
Washtenaw Community College (WCC) President Rose B. Bellanca is leading the Ann Arbor SPARK Talent Committee. Part of the purpose of this group is to identify skills gaps and develop programming to address those gaps. Bellanca visits employers to understand their needs and then meets with WCC decision makers to craft solutions.
Amy Jones, director of Schoolcraft College’s Business Development Center, says businesses realize the importance of credentials, and many want a workforce that not only has skills but also the certification.
“They’re thinking of the future of their company and their potential to grow,” she says. “We help them by training employees who can take them there.”
Augmenting worker skills
Community colleges also support businesses by training under-skilled workers who are currently employed or are looking to transition back into the workforce.
Wayne County Community College District (WCCCD) recently offered an accelerated 18-week Software Engineering Boot Camp, the first program of its kind in the U.S. More than 70 students enrolled, many who had no prior IT experience and were looking to change careers. Companies such as Quicken Loans and Compuware hired more than a third of the students immediately after graduation.
Another successful retraining program is Designers Helping Designers, launched by MCC in January 2010 in collaboration with the American Society for Body Engineers Foundation, the Macomb/St. Clair Workforce Development Board and Talascend, a technical resource firm.
“We started to see an increase in companies hiring within the design field,” says Petrosky. “A lot of local designers had been unemployed, and if you are out of work for more than six months, you need to upgrade your skills.”
The program offered training on the latest versions of software, such as Unigraphics and CATIA, and gave designers a refresher on process methodology.
“It also helped restore confidence,” says Petrosky. “We help them practice interviewing and resume writing. The support is ongoing and the program has been very successful in helping place them.”
OCC recently trained 190 new under-skilled employees for two local firms, DENSO International and EMAG LLC, both of which were expanding their design, engineering and manufacturing operations. The school received $3.1 million in training incentives for the two projects through the Michigan New Jobs Training program.
Pipeline toward the future
An ability to offer short-term workforce development solutions is one advantage community colleges hold, but these schools are also meeting the long-term needs of today’s businesses. With an eye on hot jobs, schools are giving students opportunities to study for careers that are in high demand.
Michigan’s Bureau of Labor Market Information & Strategic Initiatives released its report on “Hot 50” jobs in Michigan through 2018 and many were in the field of information technology, including computer system analysts, network systems and data communications analysts and administrators, and computer software engineers.
OCC recently added programs in nanotechnology for material science and homeland security. Schoolcraft College, known for its criminal justice program, culinary arts and nursing, added a biomedical technology program to its roster.
“We are becoming the quiet leaders in the area of biomedical technology,” says Pogliano. “We are ranked third in the nation. Our program is rigorous and unique.”
A key area for MCC is in advanced automotive technology. The school offers programs in robotics, electric vehicles and energy storage. Petrosky says the training produces technicians needed to support the industry, as well as serves the needs for those going into a four-year degree in engineering.
WCC recently added programs in mammography, accelerated welder training and computed tomography (CT) equipment. Michelle Mueller, associate vice president for economic and community development at WCC, says her school is also working to better long-term employment needs by expanding its internship program.
“Washtenaw Community College is in the process of realigning the Economic and Community Development Division,” she says. “We will be looking at the establishment of entry-level employment programs that will align with industry needs and internships with employers in the area. WCC hopes to expand internships exponentially, as we believe that the best way to secure employment for our students is to provide them with an experiential learning opportunity.”
Pogliano says his eye is on the pipeline. “That means training the current workforce but also looking at the workforce of the future. We want to ensure that the trained workers are always ready.”
Macomb Community College
• Offers more than 200 degree and certificate programs
• Serves more than 48,000 students each year
• Nationally ranked in the top 2 percent in the nation for number of associate degrees awarded
• Largest grantor of associate degrees in Michigan Oakland Community College
• Offers more than 100 two-year degree programs and 45 one-year certificate programs
• Serves nearly 82,000 students each year
• Largest of Michigan’s 28 community colleges and the 21st largest in the nation
• Offers 90 programs of study
• Serves more than 36,000 students each year
• Recently opened its Health Professions Simulation Lab and Public Safety Training Complex to give students real-world experience
Washtenaw Community College
• Offers more than 100 certificates and degrees
• Serves more than 18,000 students each year
• Ranked ninth in number of associate degrees awarded to students in engineering technology and engineering-related fields according to Community College Week magazine
Wayne County Community College District
• Offers more than 100 programs and certificate courses
• Serves more than 70,000 students each year
• Launched its Corporate College as part of its “Jobs of the Future” initiative