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The customized experience

Date: Wednesday, February 23, 2022

The attitude of one-size-fits-all is rapidly becoming outdated in today’s world. Things are more tailored and customized to our own preferences and needs. As such, a have-it-your-way approach has prevailed, making it no surprise that professional development opportunities offered by Iowa’s community colleges are also becoming custom-made.

Community colleges provide ample opportunities for businesses in their communities to strengthen the skills of their employees. Through collaboration with each individual business, the colleges can provide trainings according to the specific needs and budget of the employer. Oftentimes, customized trainings can occur at a convenient location for the employees, such as directly at the worksite or a nearby centralized facility.

“There may be a misconception that community colleges can only serve individual students within the campus walls,” said Paula Nissen, administrative consultant for the Iowa Department of Education. “Customized trainings through the community colleges allow businesses to provide tailored professional development opportunities for their workers.”

At Southeastern Community College, customized professional development trainings are an important part of the college’s programming. They have worked with businesses on a variety of training topics such as safety, construction, CPR, confined space, electrical and more.

“We can customize a training for a company’s specific skill level,” said Brenda Rubey, executive director at Southeastern Community College’s Center for Business. “An employee with 20 years of experience doesn’t need the same training as someone who is newer to the field. We take that into consideration to provide a more focused and applicable training for the company.”

To expand their professional development capacity, Southeastern has also looked into new methods of training. One of their programs, known as the Effective Management Certificate, provides opportunities for businesses to train their managers as supervisors. Employees participating in the program can learn more on behavioral interviewing, mentoring, delegation, management basics and other soft skills.

Southeastern has applied a unique and innovative approach for this certificate program, which allows more local businesses to participate at one time. The Effective Management Certificate program holds class once a month from September through May. This class, which is typically four-to-six hours, is offered to companies that are a part of a consortium with similar management training needs. Each company purchases seats in the class for their employees to use.

“During the last session, nine companies participated in the training,” Rubey said. “The businesses that have been involved have ranged from corporate companies to mom-and-pop shops.”

Companies can select one employee to attend all 15 sessions and earn the program’s certificate, but most often, companies have allowed employees to switch out and only attend the Effective Management Certificate sessions they are interested in. This allows more employees to attend overall and further customize the training to their needs.

“Each one of the classes that we attend are very informative,” said Mitzie Pitford, plant human resources manager at Silgan Containers. “We have learned some valuable lessons to bring back to our company. I wanted the classes to help strengthen our communication skills, time management skills and how to work with a diverse group of employees.”

One of the main benefits of the Effective Management Certificate program is networking for the local businesses. Each company can share best practices and see commonalities in issues at the workplace.

“We like the small class sizes and that participants are all from different companies and positions within the companies,” Pitford said. “We have learned that the other businesses are struggling in the same areas that we are, and I love that everyone gives each other feedback on what we could do differently.”

To support the training, Southeastern has used the Workforce Training and Economic Development (WTED) funds provided by the state of Iowa. WTED funding was established in 2003 as part of the Grow Iowa Values Fund and has become a valuable source of financing for new program development, such as this customized training provided by Southeastern. With this funding, Southeastern is able to provide a lower cost for the participating businesses, which provides another incentive for professional development.

“Utilizing WTED funding, the cost of the enrollment to the company was reduced to a third of the total cost,” Rubey said.

Community colleges can take advantage of funding like WTED or Iowa Jobs Training (260F) to help pay for private vendors, instructors, materials and other needs to provide these types of trainings, so it is anticipated that these opportunities will continue to grow. And Rubey believes that professional development is vital for Iowa’s workforce.

“Training budgets are often the first to be cut in lean years,” Rubey said. “However, there may be funding available that we can offer to help offset some costs. The money you’re spending goes to build the skills of your employees, which benefits not only your business and individual employees but also your customers.”

Overall, customized trainings are here to stay, and community colleges are ready and waiting to help Iowa’s businesses.