Technology Transfer Center Blankets State With Technical Training
Business and industry are increasingly turning to Pennsylvania College of Technology's Technology Transfer Center to provide technical training for employees. During the 1996-97 academic year, enrollment in TTC programming surged to over 6,100. At the beginning of the '90s, that figure totaled nearly 1,400, so the growing demand is evident.
Calls for support are coming from across the commonwealth.
Last year, the first statewide Customized Job Training project ever awarded in Pennsylvania partnered Penn College with six OSRAM SYLVANIA facilities. Through the effort, employees in St. Marys, Towanda, Warren, Wellsboro, York and Bethlehem are upgrading their skills and OSRAM SYLVANIA's workforce is remaining competitive in a global market.
Penn College also was awarded a state Customized Job Training contract to assist with one of the state's top industrial development priorities the startup of Ward Manufacturing's new Automotive Casting Products Division in Lawrence Township, Tioga County.
In addition to customized training for employed workers, the TTC also is empowering the unemployed and those seeking new career opportunities. In Pittsburgh, Philadelphia and Allentown, the TTC is developing and offering training programs to help individuals with no previous computer training become computer support technicians. This short-term training is helping to meet a crucial need in today's workplace.
Regarding all of TTC's outreach, Project Manager Susan K. Clark-Teisher says, "The need is there and we have the facilities, equipment and expertise to fill that need. Penn College is particularly well-positioned to respond because of the types of programs we already offer."
Not surprising, one major element of the workforce training is focused on computers. Candace S. Baran, another TTC project manager, says, "Computers have proliferated most organizations and employees need to be trained in operating the computers."
TTC offers various computer technology courses and training in networking and data communications, and is a "Microsoft Certified Solution Provider" and home to authorized training centers for Autodesk and SmartCAM products. Training is held at Penn College and in business settings across the state.
In addition to easing employees' fears of learning computers, Baran frequently eases employers' worries about the cost of purchasing computers. She stresses, "Computers have to be viewed not as a cost or an expense, but as an absolute, necessary tool to achieving productivity and effectiveness. A computer is not a luxury item, it's a productivity tool."
Along with the demand for computer skills, today's companies are seeking other enhanced technology skills.
"The workplace over the last 10 to 15 years has greatly changed in terms of what skills employers are looking for in their employees," Teisher explains. "They are seeking employees with multi-skills or multi-crafts. Not only do employees need to learn how to operate the equipment, but they need to troubleshoot and repair."
Teisher notes employees' written and oral communication skills also need updating. "Employees must keep logs on machines and communicate from shift to shift. They need to be able to read technical manuals," she says. "For many employees, all of these changes are totally redefining their jobs."
Much of TTC's customized job training starts with upgrading employees' basic math, communication and problem-solving skills.
Baran comments, "With changes in technology impacting literally all areas of the workforce, there is a much greater need for training in the technologies and in other areas as well, such as basic skills. You can't separate the technology skills from the basic skills because they work hand-in-hand. The basic skills are the foundation."
She adds, "Students come in with a clearly defined set of objectives and they want to put their skills to use the minute they leave the classroom."
Employers are looking for the same thing, Teisher indicates: "Employers are very bottom-line oriented. They are looking for immediate proficiency in the skills their employees have learned in the classroom."
Workforce Training: Northern Exposure
As is the case all across the state, businesses and industries in the Northern Tier of Pennsylvania are concerned about their ability to maintain a skilled workforce. Training through Pennsylvania College of Technology's Technology Transfer Center and the North Campus, located near Wellsboro, is helping to meet those workplace needs.
The North Campus works closely with Tioga County Development Corp., the Governor's Action Team, and local business and industry to respond to workforce-training and skills-upgrading needs.
"Recent interviews with the businesses and industries participating in Tioga County's Route 49 Corridor Enterprise Zone Program confirm the importance of recruiting and retaining employees with the workplace skills companies require to compete nationally and internationally," reports Dr. Ted C. Nichols, assistant dean for the North Campus.
That's where the North Campus and Technology Transfer Center are making an impact.
Training through Penn College can be customized to meet employers' specific needs. Because of the impact of computers, much of the current training focuses on computer skills, but other skill areas such as hydraulics and pneumatics, statistical process control, welding, lumber grading, applied chemistry and physics, team building, and others are being delivered, as well. Training is conducted at the plant site, the North Campus or one of the College's Williamsport area campuses.
To meet needs as they are identified, the North Campus also can draw on the College's affiliation with Penn State and its Center for Continuing Education and Distance Learning. This is being done currently for courses in production management.
In addition to training support in Tioga and Bradford counties, the North Campus' outreach extends into Potter County with computer courses and other offerings through a partnership with the Potter County Educational Council.
TTC Project Coordinator Heather B. McLean focuses much of her efforts in the Northern Tier and is committed, along with Nichols, to developing vital partnerships with business and industry.
"My role as project coordinator is to provide outreach and customized job training opportunities to industries in the Northern Tier, as well as foster a closer relationship between the community and Penn College's North Campus," McLean comments.
The North Campus has hosted all-day workshops for industries, sponsored by the Tioga County Development Corp. and the Northern Tier Regional Planning and Development Commission. As well, through the use of videoconferencing technology, the North Campus serves as the Northcentral Pennsylvania host site for the quarterly meetings of the Pennsylvania Rural Development Council. The campus also makes its videoconferencing facility available to business and industry.
Nichols says industries that partner with education are better prepared to compete in the marketplace and better able to provide jobs and impact lives.
"For businesses, investments in employee educational programs and the development of partnerships with educational institutions can help companies remain competitive in this global market," Nichols notes. "Companies that form links with colleges are more productive, have higher profits and rates of growth, and have more innovative practices than companies without educational partnerships. Further, investments that increase a worker's level of education are found to produce twice the gains in workplace efficiency as comparable investments in machinery and tools."