New grants are all business

Training has taken on a much wider meaning than it once had, when people thought of it simply as “shop class” or vocational education. Today, training has become the responsibility of public schools, universities, governments and business alike. Community colleges, in particular, are increasingly central in these efforts.

The Trade Adjustment Assistance Community College and Career Training grants require all these institutions to come together in public-private partnerships to tackle the challenge of closing the training gap.

While the grants have always required that the private sector be at the table, the latest round puts a much stronger emphasis on involving the business community, and we are glad of it.

Business wants to be a partner in training programs. We know what skills are required to keep our operations humming, and it is our responsibility to help those who run educational and training systems be responsive to the demands of the marketplace.

If training and credential programs are not grounded in the skills that employers require, they are not effectively preparing the next generation of employees — and that’s bad for business and for all hardworking Americans.

That is why companies large and small are at the forefront of efforts to close the training gap. We start at our own worksites.

For example, when Siemens could not find enough qualified workers for the expansion of our steam & gas turbine plant in Charlotte, N.C., we teamed up with Central Piedmont Community College. Under our apprenticeship program, students attend classes on advanced mechatronics half of the time. The other half of the time, they work in our advanced turbine plant. We pay them while they do it.

And they will graduate with a mechatronics degree that combines expertise in the specialties of mechanical, computer and electronic engineering with software control and system design engineering. They will have a certificate from the state of North Carolina that says they are trained in that skill. And they are guaranteed a job in our plant when they graduate.

In California, Pacific Gas & Electric is collaborating with local community colleges, community-based training centers, the public workforce development system and unions. This effort has successfully expanded the pool of qualified candidates for entry-level skilled craft and utility industry jobs.

Efforts are occurring on a larger scale, as well. AT&T is teaming up with the Georgia Institute of Technology College of Computing and Udacity, a for-profit educational organization, to make graduate degrees and certifications more accessible and affordable in an online course format.

The program eliminates barriers for many students who are otherwise unable to access advanced education while addressing the shortage of people with science, technology, engineering and math degrees.

Business Roundtable is partnering with the ACT Foundation, a leading workplace education think-tank in Austin, Texas, to make sure the new training programs and certifications are compatible across key industries and produce outstanding results in the workplace.

It’s also essential that government at every level take oversight responsibility as we expand programs that deliver new hope of lasting employment.

To get Americans back to work and keep them employed, schools, government and industry must collaborate as never before. The announcement of the new federal training grants is a great step forward.

© 2014, Business Roundtable. Distributed by MCT Information Services. Eric Spiegel is president and chief executive of Siemens Corp. and the vice president of the Business Roundtable’s Education and Workforce Committee.

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