Clark College expanding new Economic & Community Development Program

Department aims to meet the needs of employers and job seekers now and in the future

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While managing variables of supply and demand have been part of business culture for centuries, the concept has often been lost in terms of staffing and personnel development. Clark College’s Economic and Community Development Program (formerly Corporate and Continuing Education) looks to change that.

“The program really grew out of our contract learning projects. We saw a need and opportunity to expand our offerings in professional development, staffing and leadership training,” says Kevin Witte, associate vice president of Economic and Community Development at Clark College.

The department stands as the outreach arm of Clark College to the community and businesses throughout Southwest Washington. Covering a myriad of non-credit programs, it creates educational opportunities for personal enrichment, mature learning, as well as career and professional development, which Witte coins as tools to “help get a job or progress in a job.”

In addition to campus-based classes, Economic and Community Development programs create customized learning for organizations, businesses, and healthcare and government institutions. These programs can be delivered on-campus or on-location.

“We wanted to be agile with highly-customized learning to meet organizations’ exact needs,” Witte says, adding that value comes from a local entity who knows the businesses and organizations they are working with, delivering efficient, effective and outcome-focused education.

Jeanne Bennett, executive director of the Southwest Washington Workforce Development Council (SWWDC), shares her organization’s experience in partnering with Clark College Economic and Community Development. “Historically we have focused on the job seeker, in more of a “push” system, pushing employees out to the employers. Partnering with Clark College, we have begun to focus on the employer’s needs, bringing them quality candidates that better satisfy their needs.”

An example of the pairing is the Accelerate to Machining Program. Funded through the Jobs Innovator Acceleration Challenge Grant, Clark College worked with the SWWDC to design a program training incumbent workers, enabling them to take on new roles in machining that were in gross short supply.

“We are able to create a pool of qualified talent with marketable skills in areas that employers truly need,” Bennett says.

Another example Bennett shares is the Certified Production Technician certification program. “Clark College was quickly able to create certification programs that specifically met a vast need for skilled employees in manufacturing.” Covering skills in quality measurements, safety, computing and more, the program was able to create jobs and meet the needs of employers.

Max Ault, Business Development Manager of the Columbia Resources Economic Development Council (CREDC), shares Bennett’s positive experience. “As we work to strategically address shifting trends in our workforce and the needs of industry, Clark College’s Economic and Community Development provides dynamic and extremely relevant training and development courses for individual talent and the business community.”

By developing smaller, local programs, Clark College has been able to quickly address needs for employers and job seekers alike, creating tailored programs that develop skills in the exact areas that are needed.

According to Ault, manufacturing represents a sizable portion of Clark County’s economy. Rapid retirement of highly-skilled Baby Boomers within the industry, coupled with a lack of workforce talent to fill those vacant positions, creates a problem as well as an opportunity.

“Clark College has been instrumental in providing both skilled training curricula and career pathways to those in the latter half of the Generation X cohort that require training to advance within their current field and meet the demands of industry while also training our Millennial workforce in highly technical and specialized competencies to backfill those growing vacancies across multiple sectors,” Ault says.

Agile, customized curriculum may be just the tip of the iceberg for Clark College Economic and Community Development.

“We have some really exciting projects that are underway and are coming,” Witte says.

The first project is the Advanced Manufacturing Center. Exposing students to the latest techniques in manufacturing, delving into the realms of mechatronics (the integration of mechanical and electrical components), advanced composites, optics and nano technology help to build the next generation of skilled workers. Tangible experience in a hands-on skills lab affords quality learning for key workplace needs.

Focusing on a trade our region happens to be known quite well for, Clark College has launched a Fermentation Science program, geared toward the growing technical requirements of the brewery and winemaking industries.

A major undertaking is the development of a Maker Center. Witte describes such a place as a gymnasium for inventors. Individuals, organizations and businesses with a great idea, but little access to the right tool, can come in and put their idea to creation.

In addition to being a potential launching pad for countless businesses and products, the Maker Center would serve as a seeding ground, reaching kids early on, giving them hands-on experience in science and technology.

Finding ways to meet both the needs of employers and job seekers now and in the future, Clark College Economic and Community Development, along with its many partners, tackles the management of supply and demand with every business’ most precious resource – its people.