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Academia and Businesses Partner to Improve Workforce

August 2013

Praxis vs. pedagogy.

Do processes in the workplace fuel what is taught in the classroom? Or does knowledge generated by scholars guide workplace effort? Ideally, practice and theory work in synergy, with the workplace incorporating institutional knowledge and the classroom transforming based on corporate need.

That’s certainly the case in the Mid-Atlantic region, where community colleges and partnerships formed by business leaders and educators ensure students are taught what is needed by the workforce they will enter and that educators are keenly aware of workplace requirements. These partnerships also ensure workers encourage students to keep their skills current and remain competitive in a demanding employment economy.

Sharing their experience with us in this issue are:

Lee Dougherty, Cecil College

Lee Dougherty, Cecil College

Lee Dougherty: Dougherty is the director of workforce development and customized training for Cecil College. Prior to joining Cecil College six years ago, Dougherty was the director of continuing education at Penn State Great Valley.

Pam Karwowski: Karwowski is the director of government contracting and informational technology training for Harford Community College. Previously she served as HCC’s coordinator for computer and contract training for 12 years.

Kelly Keeton: A Cecil County Public Schools graduate, Keeton joined its staff in 2006 as public information officer. In 2012, she was named Coordinator for Cecil County’s Business and Education Partnership Advisory Council in addition to her role as an assistant in administration.

Cecil College and Harford Community College are part of a larger statewide community college system designed to provide area students associate degrees for transfer to colleges and universities offering bachelor and advanced degrees as well as two-year degrees, certificates

Pam Karwowski, Harford Community College

Pam Karwowski, Harford Community College

and non-credit courses and classes to meet specific workforce needs.

Cecil’s Dougherty and HCC’s Karwowski have similar roles for their institutions, each tailoring their work to meet the unique needs of each county’s students, workforce and employers. They tend to work with employers and students outside the two-year transfer degree pipeline intended to present well-prepared students to the state’s four-year institutions.

Training Current Employees
“If an employer says ‘I need X,’ I go into the business and ask specific questions to determine what they mean by X. I then match the proper instructor to them,” Karwowski says. “Even if I have 10 instructors who teach business writing, for example, I want to match the right skill set, personality and background to meet the specific needs of that employer.”

Dougherty provides several examples illustrating how workforce training enhances both employer and employee.

“For Burris Logistics, their accounting officer wanted us to train the people who worked for her in cost accounting. We used their specific accounting methods and examples in the training. With better-trained employees, the manager could delve into more analytical work. We taught this in the morning, at the worksite, over a few months,” Dougherty says.

Kelly Keeton, Cecil County Public Schools

Kelly Keeton, Cecil County Public Schools

For W.L. Gore, Dougherty brought in English as a secondary language instruction.

“We worked with associates in written and spoken English and on vocabulary specific to the Gore workplace,” Dougherty says. “It is very important to Gore that everybody be a part of the culture. You don’t just work there. You are part of the Gore family.”

Leaders at Terumo Cardiovascular Systems want employees to better understand how what they manufacture works in the body, so Dougherty designed an anatomy course specific to what TCVS produces.

“If you want an employee to feel valued, you need to make an investment and keep employees’ skills current,” Karwowski says.
Both Dougherty and Karwowski are active in community organizations to stay in touch with employers who might need workforce training. They also make calls to businesses that probably could use their services, but might not realize tailored workforce training is just a phone call away.

Karwowski recently coordinated for-credit instructional blocks for employees working at the U.S. Army’s Edgewood Chemical Biological Center and the Medical Research Institute of Chemical Defense.

“If an employer wants its employees to receive credit, I work with the appropriate deans to make those classes happen,” Karwowski says.

Preparing Students to Work
Cecil College and HCC also work with businesses to determine what jobs are presently available and what jobs are anticipated, to ensure that the local colleges are ready to prepare students for realistic regional employment opportunities.

“HCC routinely holds focus groups to ensure the college is meeting the pipeline need,” says Karwowski. Inviting business leaders to influence educational offerings is not new, nor unique to the Mid-Atlantic region.

“Credit programs have advisory groups,” Karwowski says, noting she represents HCC’s continuing education interests on the college’s information assurance and cybersecurity, computer information systems, and accounting groups.

Dougherty adds, “Pam and I each work with the Susquehanna Workforce Network to ensure we are offering training for jobs people can get in this area. Cecil College in particular serves as a regional training hub since Cecil County borders Pennsylvania and Delaware.”
Cecil County has an added resource to support preparing students for homegrown careers.

BEPAC, Cecil County’s Business and Education Partnership Advisory Council, will turn 25 in 2014. The independent, self-funded entity brings together diverse interests in Cecil County to address common goals of interest to every BEPAC member.

“BEPAC enhances quality education in Cecil County Public Schools through business and school interaction to prepare students to meet job market needs, identify viable career pathways and to help students become lifelong learners and productive members of the community,” Keeton says.

Membership is open, with representatives from businesses large and small, civic groups, government and education meeting monthly August through May to identify needs and offer support to students in Cecil County.

BEPAC initiatives include mentoring (BEPAC members mentor at-risk students through the county’s AIM High Program as well as outstanding STEM students); providing classroom partnership grants to teachers and school administrators; advocating for educational issues with elected officials; and supporting teachers new to Cecil County to help CCPS retain top-quality educators.

“When representatives from businesses, community organizations, local government and public education can come together in support of children, the outcome not only affects classroom learning today, but also the long-term result is a better future for these students and our county as a whole. Productive working relationships are the critical component in making all of this come together effectively,” Keeton says. “It is very special for me to work for the school system from which I graduated. It all comes down to people who want to do what is best for children, and it is a privilege to be a part of that.” I95