Upskill employees to address talent, retention issues

In a tight, talent-driven economy, strategic business leaders are constantly looking for ways to grow and develop their workforce. Doing so requires innovative thinking, and strong education and training partnerships.

A new book by the Harvard University Project on Workforce features the prominent role community colleges play in economic growth. The book, “America’s Hidden Economic Engines: How Community Colleges Can Drive Shared Prosperity,” profiles Lorain County Community College (LCCC) and four other colleges that are helping their regions thrive. Close partnerships between education and industry, the book says, can ensure the workforce is well prepared for our region’s most pressing economic needs.

The benefits of upskilling an existing workforce are plentiful. Upskilling can reduce skill gaps and lower turnover costs while creating a culture of trust and loyalty. At LCCC, we partner with local business and industry leaders to upskill employees to meet current and future demands. These connections help local businesses find affordable, flexible workforce development programs, such as apprenticeships and short-term certificates, that fit their needs.

We have the utmost confidence that our programs align with employers’ current and future workforce needs because we involve industry leaders as part of our program design. One example is our Bachelor of Applied Science in Smart Industrial Automated Systems Engineering Technology.

The program, which began in the fall of 2022, was created in response to the rapid development of disruptive technologies that are shaping advanced manufacturing in Northeast Ohio. It’s the second bachelor of applied science degree we’ve launched, as we prepare the workforce for the region’s talent needs.

One of the program’s first enrolled students, Emily Graven, is an automation engineer at Absolute Machine Tools — the same company that had leadership present, along with a host of other local companies, as LCCC designed the degree’s curriculum. The company had been forecasting the future of the industry and, as a result, is ramping up its turnkey automation and robotics departments. And they’re doing so, in part, to fill holes in the workforce with their own talent. Absolute Machine Tools’ leadership has said their automation department might be small, but it’s rapidly growing. And LCCC’s program offers them an opportunity for their existing employees to be part of that growth.

As Northeast Ohio companies forecast and respond to the latest trends in manufacturing, they often rely on time-tested employee development programs to keep pace. LCCC has developed customized apprenticeship programs with many local companies, including Ford Motor Co., AJ Rose Manufacturing and Ridge Tool Co., the maker of RIDGID-branded products. Ridge Tool Company partnered with LCCC to build its own multi-craft maintenance technician apprenticeship program, certified by the state of Ohio.

While developing the program, LCCC and Ridge Tool Co. leaned heavily on our shared philosophy that hands-on, on-the-job training produces near-immediate positive results for both the employee and the employer. And our close partnership allowed both LCCC leadership and the Ridge Tool Co. team to assess the changing career field and adjust the program’s curriculum as needed.

The result has been a dynamic, productive apprenticeship program that addresses skill gaps and is specifically tailored to the needs of their operation. ●

Marcia J. Ballinger, Ph.D., is President of Lorain County Community College

Marcia J. Ballinger



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