Editor’s Note: This is the most recent installment of a recurring feature highlighting accessible and often under-utilized resources that are available to the business community. More information about these resources can be found online at www.VancouverBusinessResource.com.
During a Vancouver City Council meeting this month, the focus was on economic development strategy. Lisa Nisenfeld, president of the Columbia River Economic Development Council (CREDC), made teamwork a focus of her presentation.
“Economic development is a team sport,” she said.
In Vancouver, one of the team’s key players is Clark College Corporate Education. Working alongside organizations such as the CREDC and Southwest Workforce Development Council (SWWDC), Clark College’s Corporate Education Program provides a range of learning services to the local business community.
Training in demand
Michelle Giovannozzi, the program’s corporate relations manager, sees increasing demand for training at local businesses.
“Companies are running really lean, and are looking for increased efficiency,” she said. “They want to do more with fewer employees, so one way to do that is to skill-up the existing employees that they have, so they can produce more without adding headcount.”
According to Giovannozzi, companies are increasingly looking to cross-train employees so they can fulfill multiple roles.
“An example would be a welder who used to just be in a welding position. But now the company might need a welder who can also do some basic machining, or who can also read blueprints because they don’t have a dedicated reader,” she explained.
At Clark College, corporate training falls into four primary areas: Leadership training is focused toward front-line supervisors, middle managers and executive leadership. Technical training is available in IT disciplines, as well as manufacturing areas such as machining, welding and mechatronics. Process improvement training includes Lean Manufacturing, Six Sigma and ISO 9001 preparation. The fourth area is healthcare.
Giovannozzi said healthcare “has the most potential, not only because of growing demand in the market, but because of the innovative things that we are doing in that area.”
PeaceHealth Southwest Medical Center is one of Clark County’s largest employers, and is also a longstanding partner with Clark College. Rich Gibler, PeaceHealth Southwest’s director of education services and organization development, said that the company has benefitted greatly from the association.
“Clark College’s Mark Gaither got in touch with us because there was a grant through Washington state to assist incumbent workers in getting their certified nursing assistant certification, and also some college credit,” said Gibler. “These incumbent workers, who make $18 an hour or less, could then move on an enhanced career pathway in healthcare.”
According to Gibler, the result of the Clark College program was a more capable workforce and increased employee satisfaction.
Gibler said the decision to participate in training was made easier through the availability of the grant. Clark’s corporate education program works with several organizations, including the CREDC and SWWDC, to subsidize training for businesses of all sizes.
Giovannozzi said that Clark College is dedicated to providing businesses with cost-effective solutions. Alongside grant opportunities, the corporate education program also brings companies together who have similar needs, allowing for cost sharing.
For business leaders, the process starts with a set of meetings to evaluate a company. The corporate education team then distills the results into a summary of missing skill sets.
Each corporate partner receives a customized training solution based on skills and budget requirements. Training is scalable, so it works for small as well large companies.
According to Giovannozzi, Clark College is an attractive partner for local businesses, not only due to the affordability of the program, but also due to its breadth and expertise.
“When it comes to corporate training, we know the resources and we’ve vetted the resources, so we can shortcut that process for the companies,” she said, adding that training can be tailored so that employees can do it on their own time.
To help make personalized training possible, e-learning is a core component of the program. Mark Gaither, one Clark College’s instructional designers, is a big advocate of e-learning. He noted that online courses are designed to be engaging and collaborative. The e-learning environment includes team activities such as problem-solving sessions, in-depth discussions and direct interactions with the instructor.
At PeaceHealth Southwest, Gibler voiced his approval of the online learning process. “What was great about the online training is that we could do it right here,” he said.
Closing the skills gap
For businesses like PeaceHealth, there’s another factor that’s motivating employee training activities: an aging workforce.
“Over time, as the boomers age and move into retirement, we have to backfill quite a bit with a variety of health occupations,” said Gibler.
With approximately 75 million baby boomers across the U.S. approaching retirement age, businesses face significant challenges maintaining skill levels of their workforce. The healthcare and manufacturing sectors in particular tend to be composed of a greater number of older workers.
For many local businesses, training existing employees is the best solution. According to Giovannozzi, corporate education is about closing the skills gap, whether it is due to retiring workers, or the promotion of workers with incomplete skill sets.
Beyond closing the skills gap, Giovannozzi noted that corporate training can serve to create a common approach, unify the management focus, and get teams working from the same reference point.
“This can be tremendously beneficial,” she said.