Skilled worker shortage? Not here.
Unique program draws workers, high school students to high-paying jobs
CLARINDA – Business and education officials in southwest Iowa are taking a two-pronged approach to reducing skilled worker shortages: fast-track training for highly skilled advanced manufacturing jobs and partner with local companies that not only support the program, but invest in its success.
That is the premise behind CEAM, an acronym for the Center of Excellence for Advanced Manufacturing, that launched in 2017. Housed in a state-of-the-art facility on Iowa Western Community College’s Clarinda campus, CEAM programs are designed to meet and sustain the needs of current and emerging advanced manufacturing companies throughout southwest Iowa.
Now in its third year, the program boasts a waiting list of people looking to reap the benefits that the two-year certificates in electro-mechanical technology and tool and die afford.
“As our economy changes and technology changes, it is hard to maintain a strong base of talent with the skills companies need to grow and innovate,” said Mark Stanley, vice president of economic and workforce development at Iowa Western Community College. “It takes more than mechanical skills. Advanced manufacturing is highly technical. We needed to put something in place to address those needs and develop a robust talent pipeline.”
Today’s manufacturing jobs don’t resemble the stereotype that many people imagine them to be: repetitive, low-skill and no room for advancement. On the contrary, southwest Iowa is home to a number of global companies that increasingly integrate new innovative technologies in both products and processes. Without a steady supply of skilled workers, employers found themselves fighting over the same dwindling pool of talent.
Finding a solution didn’t happen overnight. Programs like CEAM are capital intensive and require highly skilled instructors. They also run the risk of being cut if community colleges can’t depend on steady enrollment. To be successful, the program had to meet the needs of all the players — employers, the college, students, workers and the community.
“We want our youth to stay in the community and find good jobs and we want people in the workforce to have advancement opportunities,” Stanley said. “Business and industry are key partners in designing and implementing programs to make that happen.”
CEAM is unique in that the company sponsors — Lisle Corp., AKS Precision Ball Company, Mahle Engine Components and NSK Corporation — each signed a five-year contract agreeing to sponsor a set number of students each year. This commitment helps to ensure the sustainability of the program with a guarantee that seats will be filled. They also serve on a steering committee with representatives from Iowa Western Community College and the Clarinda school district superintendent. Together, they ensure the program is industry-driven and curriculum is relevant to the work.
“We need to be dynamic to accommodate advancements in technology and industry practices,” said Dave Salerno, industrial training consultant and lead instructor for CEAM. “That requires programs to be driven by industry needs.”
Based on recommendations from the steering committee, CEAM programs are offered in the evening, from 4 to 7 p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays, to accommodate both working adults and high school students. Additionally, CEAM classes end before Thanksgiving and resume after Christmas. Students in the program also have the summer off.
“The steering committee felt strongly that students need to have a work life and a family life, too,” said Kristin Smith, director of the Iowa Western Community College Clarinda and Shenandoah centers.
During the school year, students learn from senior-level industry professionals and get hands-on experience using the same tools and equipment used on the job. To maintain a steady pool of talent and to enhance learning through small class sizes, enrollment is limited to 15 students per year.
“CEAM was designed so that students can learn the skills and then immediately take them back and apply them on the job,” said Starlyn Perdue, director of economic development at Iowa Western Community College.
To support the program, Iowa Western Community College relies on funding through the state’s Workforce Training and Economic Development (WTED) fund and from in-kind industry donations. WTED, which has become an important source of financing for community college new program innovation, development and capacity building, covers about 60 percent of program costs. The remaining 40 percent comes from industry.
“All of the companies have skin in the game,” Perdue said. “They are all willing to help us when we need it. For instance, Lisle Corp. has provided a lot of in-kind match in equipment, and recently, Kawasaki Motors Manufacturing Corp. donated a robot for the robotics and automation class.”
Just three years in, CEAM is already meeting and exceeding expectations. Enrollment is at capacity, stereotypes are being shattered and new companies, such as Fres-Co out of Red Oak, are coming on board. But the real winners are the graduates working in high-paying, high-skill jobs and the employers who know they have the talent they need to grow and innovate.
“We have both men and women in the program,” Stanley said. “High school students and recent graduates, employees and college students — they are all represented.”
The first group of students graduated this past summer and many are already reaping the rewards. One summer graduate was promoted into a supervisor position at his sponsoring company and he also signed on to instruct a CEAM course. Other employees witnessed the newly acquired skills of their coworkers who have gone through the program, motivating them to seek out the program, too.
Stanley says that CEAM is an example of what can be accomplished when the private sector and local community college partner to meet the needs of students and regional industries.
“Having a skilled workforce is directly tied to the strength of our local economy,” Stanley said. “Companies are sending their employees here, students are gaining the skills needed for high-paying advanced manufacturing jobs and our businesses are growing.”
1960 – 2018
The CEAM program wouldn’t be what it is today without the vision and foresight of the late Fred Lisle, former president of Lisle Corp. A major employer in southwest Iowa, Lisle Corp. manufactures products and specialty tools for the automotive aftermarket. In total, Lisle Corp. employs around 350 people.
Approximately four years ago, Lisle approached Iowa Western Community College president, Dan Kinney, about an approach to address the region’s skilled labor shortage. He championed the idea of doing things differently and was instrumental in securing industry buy-in for a true public-private partnership. Thus, the seed for CEAM was planted.
Last year, Iowa Western Community College officials paid tribute to Fred Lisle’s contributions and leadership by dedicating the center in his memory: The Fred Lisle Center of Excellence for Advanced Manufacturing.