Greg Alexander

Training wheels for area businesses

Baltimore Sun, November 2004

In these economic times, businesses are looking for new ways to increase employee productivity while still trying to reduce costs. Some businesses are restructuring due to economic woes or simply a need to “shake things up.” Some companies may look to their current employees to increase their skill sets, obtain new knowledge of technology and become more productive. Conversely, many employees are looking for new ways to market themselves as indispensable to their current employers or obtain new skills to look for a better job. In all of these scenarios, community colleges play a key role as the source for continuing education and training.

Serving Carroll County and beyond

“The biggest hallmark of community colleges is our ability to offer training for businesses that is customized to their workplace by using their language,” says Karen Merkle, vice president of continuing education and training at Carroll Community College. In addition to offering general business classes such as management, leadership, professional development and software training, the school – through its Business Training Center – offers training for area businesses based on business type, size and employee skill levels. “All of our business training is tailored to the individual client – the content, location and delivery method.”

Merkle says that many companies come to Carroll Community College when they need to reorganize, restructure or reduce labor force. “We’ve helped many businesses find grant funds so that they don’t have to lay people off, or we’ve retrained employees so that they can move into other jobs.” Carroll’s Business Center meets with clients to do a needs analysis; a job analysis to identify the skills, knowledge and attitudes necessary for employees; and a consultation to identify problems and issues. “We work with consultants and our staff to help businesses get through tough times. The great thing about community colleges is that we are here for the long haul. The businesses we serve have helped us build our campus, and now we can help them.”

Carroll Community College President Faye Pappalardo, Ed.D., agrees. "I believe deeply that Carroll Community College is one of Carroll County's greatest assets because we have responded quickly to the needs of the county when we have the ability to do so. We are committed to meet the challenges of global competition and any changing demands made on the workforce. To that end, we have taken a strong leadership role in becoming Carroll County's principal provider of training and continuing education by forming partnerships, providing classes and responding quickly to companies, businesses, our public school system and to anyone who seeks our expertise." Merkle adds that the school partners with other community colleges in Maryland for expanded resources.

Another asset to the business community is the school’s Miller Small Business Resource Center. The center offers small businesses a place to come for seminars and workshops on such topics as how to write a business plan, how to get funding and how to set up an accounting system, Merkle says. “The center also provides access to computers so that small businesses can set up mailing lists, print business cards and hold meetings with clients until they secure office space of their own. One of the greatest elements of the center is the volunteer mentor board comprised from individuals from the Carroll County business community. We have mentors in areas such as accounting, law, banking, marketing and economic development that can offer invaluable advice.”

Offering solutions and advice

“Over the years of helping businesses, we’ve come to understand that when a company has a problem, they want a solution, and that’s where we can help,” says David Croghan, dean for workforce development and business services at Anne Arundel Community College (AACC). “We tailor solutions to their issues – whether it’s sales, customer service, technology or management,” says Croghan of AACC’s Center for Workforce Solutions. The center also offers training in such areas as employee development, organizational development, workplace sensitivity and communications.

Croghan says that the school has worked with many different types of businesses with different needs. For example, AACC worked with Northrop Grumman Corp., a company with over 7,000 employees in Anne Arundel County. “We’ve worked with them for years – covering anything from technology to the Japanese language.” Croghan says that the school used Northrop’s internal staff to develop a curriculum, plan and syllabus so that they could deliver the training.

Other examples of business training that AACC has been involved in, says Croghan, include when Under Armour moved its warehouse distribution center to Anne Arundel County and AACC provided leadership and supervision training to assist in hiring practices, and communication training for MTA bus drivers during the stressful winter months. “We also worked with the Ravens and their ticket takers to orient them to a corporate culture and with the National Security Agency,” he says. Croghan says that another company hired AACC when it was installing new workstations; AACC provided trainers to ensure that the equipment was installed correctly and to assist employees when they arrived to work the first day after the installation so that they understood the new equipment.

Helping Baltimore take the next step

Boasting multiple campuses and more than 80 off-campus sites in schools, libraries, churches, recreation centers and senior centers, Baltimore City Community College (BCCC) offers an array of options for its students. “We are the largest post-secondary education provider in Baltimore City,” says Herbert Sledge, a spokesperson for the school. In addition to offering endless continuing education courses such as child care training and training for health care positions like registered nurse, EKG assistant, phlebotomist, medicine aide and geriatric nursing assistant, BCCC also offers customized training through its Business and Continuing Education Center.

Whether it’s improving productivity, organizational development or team building, BCCC works directly with businesses to find solutions. One of the most exciting ventures, Sledge says, is the school’s Command Spanish® courses, which help employees with no Spanish knowledge communicate with Spanish-speaking co-workers, patients and customers. “We are the first school in the area to offer workplace-specific Spanish training,” Sledge says. He explains that the courses are customized for a particular profession. For example, there are Spanish courses tailored for employees in construction, dentistry, hospitality, medicine and teaching. “In our ‘Spanish for Paramedics and EMTs’ course, for example, the language skills are specifically tailored to emergency situations with an emphasis on health care. This course empowers EMTs to be bilingual, which is important with Baltimore’s growing Hispanic population.” Sledge adds that the Spanish course for construction workers focuses on daily interaction for construction workers and safety, which can save lives.

“We also offer restaurant and bartending classes, so the Hyatt, for example, can send current staff to learn bartending skills,” says Sledge, adding that other popular courses include information technology training courses and licensure courses like real estate and learning how to become a notary public. “We also do customized training – for BGE, our fiber optic and copper cabling course was useful, while we’ve formed partnerships with companies like Bank One where students can earn while they learn.”

Intensive training

“With a commitment of just a few months, you can gain many new job skills,” says Mike Carey, executive dean on continuing education and economic development at the Community College of Baltimore County (CCBC). Through the school’s Intensive Training Center, individuals can start a new career in six months or less. “They are many different options for jobs with computers, bookkeeping and business. Additionally, there are endless job opportunities in health care,” says Carey. Courses leading to jobs as a surgical technician, medical assistant, certified nursing assistant or a nursing support technician are especially popular, he says. “Also, our courses for jobs dealing with medical and hospital billing and codes can lead to a job where you are making $40,000 per year.”

Carey adds that many hospitals look to CCBC to place unskilled workers in a customized training program. “For example, Johns Hopkins Hospital once sent a worker to CCBC who wanted to become a surgical technician. If you already have a great employee, and he or she wants to upgrade skill sets to move in a different area, why not invest in that employee, who you already like and know?

“What is always moving for me,” he adds, “is to hear the wonderful stories from past students saying how these programs have changed their lives.”

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