Monday, September 8, 2008

Rethinking Workplace Success

I have the good fortune of frequently talking with employers about their workforce needs and how MVCC might better support their operations - educating and training the workers of today and tomorrow. There is an apparent trend that parallels my experience with businesses in Omaha and it reflects a significant shift in today's workplace. I often ask employers for the most essential skills their entry level workers (likely those with associate degrees, certificates or less) should have to be successful. What comes to mind for you? Computer skills? Teamwork? Problem solving? Critical thinking? Appreciation of diversity? That's what I used to think. However, over the past five years, I've found that businesses share a troubling challenge of finding workers with newly defined essential skills and are having to rethink workplace success. The top five essential skills that too many new hires are lacking are often 1. Punctuality (just get me someone to show up consistently on time!); 2. Basic customer service (there's more to it than people think); 3. Respect for others (before we even talk teamwork...); 4. Positive attitude and a desire to learn (wet blankets need not apply); and 5. Professionalism (appearance, ethics, language, etc.). One employer said, "These are things so many of us used to learn in the home - but the needs are so pervasive, we can’t afford to ignore the fact that so many people lack these skills.”

Couple this revelation with the facts about the workforce in Oneida County. "After declining gradually from 2004 through 2006, the county's unemployment rate has climbed incrementally to 5.1% in May 2008, though it remains only slightly below that of the state and still below the national figure. Consistent with the upstate New York region, income levels in the county remain below average, and market value per capita is weak at $39,660" (http://www.pr-inside.com/fitch-rates-oneida-county-new-york-r754736.htm). Five percent unemployment used to mean "unemployable" and with plenty of workers, that was okay. As baby boomers begin to retire, our economy will need everyone and anyone who has the potential to enter the workforce to do so - and MVCC is the logical solution to connect workers and employers. With leadership from our Center for Corporate and Community Education (CCED) and our Humanities department, MVCC is launching a short-term workplace success program. Employability skills, customer service skills and communication, math and technology for the workplace can all be coupled with short-term training to quickly solidify the essential skills necessary for workplace success.

In addition, the average income level demonstrates that we likely have a number of people underemployed. When higher paying jobs surface in the area - nanotech or those already in development, such as expansion of the worker pool at DFAS in Rome - many people will need to be retrained. This retraining will require us to more intentionally provide courses and support services that meet the needs of working adults. Traditional concepts of curriculum content may need to evolve. In addition, we'll have to increase our efforts to strategically expand our transfer articulation agreements with SUNY-IT, Utica College, SUNY-Morrisville and others to maximize opportunities for our students. As these people move into higher paying jobs, local businesses will likely need more workers to backfill the vacancies. This is where our new workplace success curriculum will serve as the starting point for so many individuals. It's a flexible curriculum that can be offered in many ways to the myriad cohorts that will benefit from the fundamental success skills in the course objectives. The workplace success program is one of the many ways in which MVCC is addressing complex needs in our community with clear and relevant programs and services.

What do you think? Have you seen or heard about any of these same issues? Let me know at presblog@mvcc.edu.