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A Guided Path: Workforce Education addresses needs

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

A Guided Path: Workforce Education addresses needs

By Dr. Stephanie Tully-Dartez
South Arkansas Community College

Stephanie Tully-Dartez

The strength of our regional, state and American economy is dependent on the education and skills of our workforce. To be competitive globally, we have an educated, skilled and well-trained workforce.

The relationship between higher education and the workforce has evolved over the years. When considering a new site or expansion, companies will examine not only the available population of qualified workers, but also relevant career programs from which graduates may be recruited. At community colleges in particular, programs are developed, expanded, or modified to address the area’s workforce needs.

Colleges often turn to employers to serve in an advisory capacity to ensure that the curriculum is consistent with the industry expectations and that the graduates are successful once they enter the workforce. This partnership and feedback process is beneficial to the employer, the college and—most importantly—the student.

A s employment opportunities grow, the demand for qualified graduates increase, but so does the need to train and retrain incumbent workers. Changes in workplace operations, as well as new equipment and standards, have the potential to create barriers for an existing workforce. In some cases, retraining in-house could be cost-prohibitive for a small company or could be too specific for a pre-existing standardized curriculum. Community colleges often can provide a cost-effective solution through customized training developed specifically for that client, or multi-company training to share costs and resources.

We at SouthArk have numerous valuable workforce partnerships, from chemical and wood products manufacturers to businesses to all levels of health-care facilities. The college recently responded to workforce needs by developing or updating programs to train chemical process operators, industrial multi-skilled craftsman, welders, information technology technicians and health care workers.

One recent multifaceted partnership was formed with the Murphy Art District in downtown El Dorado. This multi-venue arts, entertainment and dining development requires a number of full-time and part-time positions, from safety and security to kitchen staff. Existing college programs in criminal justice and paramedicine had graduates that could fulfill some roles for MAD, but others required development and modification.

An entertainment and media arts curriculum was reviewed by an advisory committee to prepare graduates to fill jobs in lighting, sound, film and stage work. The need for trained kitchen staff for MAD dining facilities inspired development of a new culinary program. Once again, a nationally-accepted curriculum was identified, and the course content was customized to address employer needs.

Partnerships such as these truly highlight the responsiveness and adaptability of the community college model for career education and promote a culture of quality and continuous improvement in the regional workforce.

A Guided Path is a monthly column that provides information about transitioning to higher education, written by the staff of South Arkansas Community College in El Dorado. Dr. Stephanie Tully-Dartez is the associate vice president of workforce and career education at SouthArk.