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What Can Your Firm Expect From the Community College?

From providing customized training to building up an area's work force, community colleges can be an invaluable company resource.

Nov 07
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Relocating companies who receive training from the North Carolina Community College System (NCCCS) BioNetwork have received $100,000 and more in training.

"For larger companies, the training could be valued at up to $1 million," notes Phil Sheridan, industry liaison for the NCCCS BioNetwork. He adds that money for subsidized training comes from the community college system. The program was begun five years ago after existing businesses complained about a lack of trained workers in the state's growing pharmaceutical and medical industries. The program provides training, curricula, and equipment specifically for industries related to the life sciences.

"We have trained thousands of people in the last year. One of the advantages is that our programs can be customized if new technology is added or as a business grows," explains Sheridan.

Norman Smit, director of the NCCCS BioNetwork, adds that community colleges can ramp up programs quickly - something that's particularly important for pharmaceutical companies. "Companies that we deal with have spent a lot of money and come through a lengthy process to produce a new drug. Once it's approved, they have a limited window when they can recoup the money spent in research. If workers aren't ready, they lose part of that time," Smit says.

Smit believes that some business executives would be very surprised walking in their labs, but they would feel right at home. "We've made it as close to a factory as you can get," he says, "but it's an educational facility. We have a mobile lab. We have equipment that's identical to the equipment you'll find at a manufacturing facility."

Training programs range from six weeks all the way up to two-year degrees designed for students going on to earn bachelor's degrees and eventually entering graduate school.

Some Advice
Canup, along with the community college officials interviewed for this article, says that community colleges vary greatly from state to state. According to Canup, you can even find big differences between community colleges within the same state. So how can you tell exactly what you can expect from a community college in a particular area? Here are some tips:

• Look for accreditation by regional groups. Then, look for accreditation and certification within programs, particularly the programs your company will need. If a program is new, find out if accreditation plans are in the works.

• Get references. Then ask references for references. Look at the processes your company uses for any potential vendor and apply some of those to evaluating a community college.

Canup advises that when you talk to companies that have worked with the community college, ask specific questions. Have people come back from training with the expected skills? How does the college treat business that is established? This is also a good time to find out about a college's outreach program. How strong is the placement department? Does the college have the resources to help you recruit workers if you need that function?

Ask about a college's flexibility

"One of the clearest indicators (of a college's commitment to supporting business and industry) is whether college administrators and faculty understand that industry training doesn't necessarily mean a standard `academic' program with 30 credit hours on-campus on the regular semester program," Hill advises. "More often industry training means putting together a short-term training program that may or may not earn traditional college credits. And it may be delivered during shift changes, on holidays, and at a company's facility. Those requirements won't surprise a college involved in and committed to industry training."

• Look at retention rates among businesses that hire graduates of a community college.
"In general, you'll find a higher retention rate among employees with community college training when compared to students with a B.A. or B.S. Our graduates usually want to stay in the area," Sheridan explains.

• Take a look at the academic side, even if you only need technical training. A good community college has established strong partnerships with four-year colleges.
"Matriculation agreements guarantee that our students with a two-year degree receive 100 percent of their credit when they transfer. That shows an awareness that two-year biotech graduates have everything they need to succeed at whatever path they choose," Smit concludes.

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