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New Initiative to Focus on Business, Industry Needs
Photos and Story by James Hill
by Susan HerefordElizabeth King believes in Portland Community College training for her company’s employees. King is ESCO’s education, training and development manager and for years has worked closely with representatives from the college to train ESCO employees. One of the top metals manufacturing companies in the Northwest, ESCO has turned to PCC to train its front-line employees, provide supervisory development training for managers and bring under- and unemployed workers into their company. A combination of company funds, state grants and matching resources from the college have provided the resources. It is a win-win for the company, the college and the community because under- and unemployed people get jobs and ESCO remains competitive.But getting the employees set up with the training, she says, can present challenges. Often, the changes have to do with systems reorganization, not the actual training. For example, King recommends creating a way to allow businesses to register employees as one group for easy tracking and payment of tuition, as opposed to individual registrations. This streamlining of PCC’s business services will help ESCO improve its bottom line, and in turn, help the college be more responsive to employer needs. The college conducted a survey of key clients to gauge its effectiveness. The survey revealed that although businesses are generally satisfied with the actual training, development and recruitment services, there were challenges in "doing business" with PCC due to a lack of single point of contact, a brand identity gap and a need to focus on business needs. A new report recently prepared by the college addresses these issues and others. Recommendations in "The Portland Community College Education to Business Initiative," will help the college provide a more responsive system for the region’s employers. Preston Pulliams, PCC President, knows there are market opportunities for the college to gain vital partners and become a leader for workforce development and economic development in the region. In turn, the increased focus on business training will bring in additional revenues to the college’s general fund. He is seeking support from Oregon’s delegation to support the plan."We have strong interest from our congressional delegation to bring this more focused, and strategic business training to our region," said Pulliams. The college is requesting $640,000 in federal start-up dollars to get the initiative off the ground, with self-supporting revenue intended by fiscal year 2010.U.S. Rep. David Wu is behind the project and wants to help the college. "I am pleased to support Portland Community College in their efforts to restructure and enhance their partnership with Oregon businesses," he said. "Together, PCC and business leaders can better identify and address the needs of the labor market. Such efforts will result in a well-trained workforce that is able to adapt to the demands of Oregons dynamic economy."The five-year plan proposes an increase in market share to $4.7 million from its current $3.2 million by fiscal year 2010.Paul Wild, director of workforce training for PCC, sees great benefits in implementing the new re-organization. "PCC is a large institution with a lot of pockets, but not one face that works with industry that says we value your partnership. With this proposed business model, we have now created a better mechanism to respond to business and industry needs." Wild said the college wants to get to a point where they are able to anticipate business training needs by identifying trends and getting ahead to serve those needs in a more timely way. "Business moves so quickly, so if we can identify the trends, and make an institutional and organizational commitment to raise our focus on business needs we will capture what we do now, and replicate more of it."Some of the stumbling blocks in the past revolve around credit training. Wild agreed. "If a business wants credit, we’ll do that."One of the strategies to elevate PCC to top of mind when businesses are considering training, said, Wild, is to do a better job of connecting with senior-level people, company CEOs and CFOs. "We’ve found out that what we deliver far outstrips our reputation with senior-level executives. This virtual center we are building will hopefully change that," Wild said.The college used input from the US Department of Education to guide its local study, a Sept. 2004 report: "The 21st Century – Community Colleges: A Strategic Guide to Maximizing Labor Market Responsiveness."The key recommendations for the PCC plan include standard pricing, centralization of business services, integrated marketing for brand identity, A centralized client-relationship management system for all the business service programs, standard measurement metrics, implementation teams, centralized marketing, two staff additions to facilitate the single-point-of contact concept and adoption of the funding model.