Viewpoint: Workforce readiness in the 21st century
Apr 30, 2014 | 763 views | 0 0 comments | 32 32 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Work readiness, workforce development, career pathways and occupational skills are terms showing up more and more in the news. It’s important for everyone — parents, grandparents and students alike — to pay close attention to dramatic changes currently transpiring in the workplace and schools, particularly related to advanced manufacturing.

Good-paying jobs are essential to help achieve and support our standard of living. Even though the national unemployment rate has recently dropped from 7 percent to 6.7 percent and is currently 6.2 percent for Bradley County, we must look closer at the data.

There were close to 1 million “discouraged workers” nationally in December. Discouraged workers are persons not currently looking for work because they believe no jobs are available for them. Another 1.5 million persons marginally attached to the labor force in December had not searched for work for reasons such as school attendance or family responsibilities. These numbers are not included in the calculation of the unemployment rate. (Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics)

The National Association of Manufacturers recently reported that 82 percent of manufacturers cannot find skilled, qualified workers. Today’s job market demands that students do more than just “graduate” from high school or college.

Currently, a large percentage of first-year college students must take one or more remedial courses in reading or math because they are not “college ready.” They must also be “work ready.” A “work ready” individual possesses the fundamental, portable skills that are critical to training and workplace success. The essential foundational skills are — yes, you guessed it — reading for comprehension, writing and mathematics. You might recall them being referred to as The Three R’s: “reading, ’riting and ’rithmatic.”

They form the basis for supporting more advanced skill attainment. Employers also place value in “work ready” individuals who possess personal characteristics, personality traits and behavioral skills that enhance their ability to successfully interact with co-workers and management. These skills are sometimes referred to as “soft skills” and are often neglected and not fully addressed by parents or educators.

Cleveland State Community College is committed to developing skilled workers for advanced manufacturing jobs. To help demonstrate this commitment, OneSource assessment and industrial readiness-training center was established in March 2013.

Our goal was to partner with advanced manufacturers to identify skill gaps, assess and provide training to close those gaps. The college, along with support from the Tucker Foundation, Bank of Cleveland, Wright Brothers Construction, Wacker Chemie AG, Cleveland/Bradley Chamber of Commerce, Pioneer Credit, Manufacturer’s Chemical LLC, First Tennessee Bank, Olin and Cormetech made a significant financial investment to purchase scientifically validated assessment tools and curriculum. We currently assess and provide skills training related to mechanical, electrical, PLC (Programmable Logic Control), CNC (Computer Numeric Control), Process Control and soft skills.

Since March 2013, we have assessed a total of 184 individuals. To date, 31 unemployed or underemployed candidates who completed our weeklong job training “boot camp” received job offers here in Bradley County.

In an effort to reach students in grade school and help further develop foundational skills, OneSource initiated the college’s first LEGO Robotic STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) camp in July 2013. We have subsequently conducted three STEM camps and expanded to our Athens campus in McMinn County. A total of 150 grade schoolers have now attended our LEGO Robotics STEM camps. We will broaden our approach with STEM this summer and add culinary, biochemistry and multimedia, as well as the LEGO Robotics camps.

There is no single approach to 21st century work readiness, because students can acquire knowledge and skills through various types of job training programs. Career pathways may include a traditional college degree, on-the-job training, work experience or a certificate program leading to an occupational certification.

In a concerted effort to align academic programs with workforce needs, Cleveland State is actively engaged with the Southeast Tennessee Pathways to Prosperity project led by business, community leaders and educators. The Pathways project will work with local school systems, businesses, civic agencies and colleges to design academic programs more aligned with the workforce needs. Incorporating CTE (Career Technical Education) and the framework for 21st century learning throughout the entire education system will create a holistic vision for transforming learning experiences and outcomes for all students.

One thing is crystal clear. Without the essential postgraduate education and training, many job seekers will not be considered for jobs that are in high demand. Instead, they risk following a downward spiral, working in jobs they dislike, and may eventually drop out of the job market entirely.

Please visit the OneSource website for more information: http://www.clevelandstatecc.edu/onesource/for-the-future

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(About the writer: Rick Creasy is the director of Workforce Development at Cleveland State Community College. This guest “Viewpoint” continues CSCC’s monthlong observance of National Community College Month.)