CSCC President Dr. Carl Hite said training is in response to industry’s reported skills shortage.
“This is the story we are hearing from manufacturers. They cannot find qualified employees,” Hite said. “We are the community college in this area and we think we have a product which is being developed pretty quickly, right now. We believe it will meet the local manufacturers’ needs.”
SMT professes to be a unique testing and training solutions program for industry and the global leader in “hands-on” industry skills assessments solutions. Stephen Berry, SMT president, said the assessments and training are being used in 31 countries. In January, Berry showcased four assessment machines offered by the company. Cleveland State expressed interest in all four machines. They purchased three: the mechanical skill assessment machine, the electrical skill assessment machine and the programmable logic control skill assessment machine.
According to Allan Gentry, CSCC technology department chair, eight faculty and staff members received training in how to give assessments. Five of the eight also underwent training for the SMT assessment curriculum.
The mechanical, electrical and PCL assessments work as both pre and post testing. They can be used to determine an employee or applicant’s potential, discover workers in need of training or as a test of knowledge post-training.
Berry was in charge of CSCC’s training.
“The training has gone exceptionally well. These are all bright, dedicated people and these capabilities are really a game changer for this school,” Berry said. “The school will go a long way in solving the skills shortage in this area.”
Continued Berry, “The school’s capabilities on the assessment side are quite broad. With each of the machines they have several sets of protocols they can conduct. There are different assessments based on the position you are staffing. The school has the capabilities to match most positions, if not all the positions in the area.”
Hite agreed the program could have a significant impact on the community.
“I think the timing couldn’t be better. We have a facility which will allow us to do things we have not been able to do before. Grants have allowed us to purchase equipment we did not have before,” Hite said. “Workforce development skill is a major thrust for Cleveland State. We have had a good number of manufacturers who have been out here and I believe they have been blown away by what they’ve seen.”
Rick Creasy, CSCC director of workforce development, has been working on OneSource for almost a year. He began by opening up a discussion with local industry leaders, followed by a presentation at the Chamber of Commerce. Manufacturers were asked to list their employee needs and current issues. The program has since developed to include the SMT assessment curriculum and tools.
Denise Rice, Cormetech director of operations, has watched the process unfold as a local manufacturer.
“I think Rick is very active about working with manufacturers. He is reaching out into the community quite a bit and trying to get our input. He really listens and makes modifications based on the input of industry in the area,” Rice said. “Chattanooga State does provide some of these services, but having someone in Cleveland provide them will be a great advantage to the employers around here.”
She said Cormetech plans to utilize the assessments and curriculum offered through CSCC.
“I’m thrilled they are bringing this tool into place because not only will it help us in our criteria selection for new employees, but we’ll also be able to use it to identify training needs for our incumbent workers,” Rice said. “We are always constantly training the employees we do have, so those assessments will help, as well.”
Tommy Wright, CSCC vice president of finance and administration, said the program is a multilevel idea spanning from high school to current employees.
“There is the high school student we can create a buzz amongst,” Wright said. “Then there are the unemployed who can differentiate themselves from another applicant going through the hiring process. Then there is the underemployed [person] who is in the position he is in now, but would like an advancement opportunity.”
Individuals, students and current employees going through the program will find CSCC flexible to their needs.
“A lot of courses in college environments are set up on a semester system,” Wright said. “This is intended to be a very condensed schedule. This particular training we are talking about is a total of 40 hours. We are able to be flexible on our end to do 10 days of half-day scheduling or full days or at nights. It can be flexible to fit the employee needs.”
Continued Wright, “It is not something which will stretch out for a long time. You can see the finish line. It makes it more immediate in terms of your gain.”
Hite said multiple components make up the training offered through Cleveland State for those interested in industry. Mechanical and electrical skills can be learned alongside softer skills like teamwork, problem-solving skills, individual work, appropriate workplace attire and presentation.
“I really do believe this could be a model where other community colleges do the same. We are doing these assessments to assist the industries and we know the deficiencies a person might have,” Hite said. “These folks do not know why they are not getting hired. With us doing the assessment, we can say, ‘You are fine in this area and you are fine in this area, but unfortunately you scored low in this area, but we have a program here which will get you up to the level you need.’”
Additional programs are being developed to increase the interest of high school students in industry careers. These programs include a summer STEM academy, dual enrollment, dual credits and increasing students exposure to assessments.
Hite said many parents and students do not realize industry has changed.
“It is not the plant moms, dads and students worked in or hear about. It is a very different environment. It is high-tech, with robots basically taking over,” Hite said. “History has shown by increasing the ability to produce the product, you need more technicians. In a perfect world you need more folks, and they need higher level of skills.”
Creasy said parents need to be re-educated on the change in industry.
“When we are saying go to school after high school we are not necessarily talking about a four-year or two-year degree,” Creasy said. “What are talking about is some kind of post-secondary training which may take the form of a certificate.”
Hite said CSCC is in talks with Cleveland City Schools and is interested in working with Bradley County, McMinn County and Monroe County, as well as local manufacturers in the area.
Wright said the community college is eager to utilize the $250,000 worth of curriculum and tools purchased by the school for assessments and training.
“If you look back at this OneSource story over the last six months, we said we were going to do something and we did our investigative work. We moved forward on that. We selected a vendor, we purchased the product, we trained our staff and now we are starting to put it in practice and do it more wholesale,” Wright said.
“There is not a product like this from Atlanta, Knoxville or Northeast Alabama. The only other product we are aware of like this in this area is in Memphis.”