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Making Change: Worker Training is Critical in High-Tech Economy

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In the midst of Ohio's budget woes, Governor Taft faces the monumental challenge of trying to push through his Third Frontier Initiative. As you may recall, that's the governor's one-point-six billion-dollar plan to spur high-tech research and jobs here in the Buckeye State. Our Making Change series has been exploring ways to reinvent Northeast Ohio's economy. One key element is developing high-tech industry for the area. But as efforts like the Third Frontier move forward, there's a problem. Right now, we don't have enough qualified people to fill the high-tech jobs we already have... let alone any new ones. But folks here in Northeastern Ohio aren't just sitting around wringing their hands over our shortage of skilled workers. Julie Henry reports on how individuals, businesses, and educational institutions are taking steps to improve the quality of our local workforce.

Friday, February 14, 2003 at 12:50 pm

Julie Henry: A few years ago, Kimala Walker spent her days ringing up gasoline and coffee as the lead cashier at a local BP station. Today, you'll find her developing micro circuitry as a nanotechnology technician at the NASA Glenn Research Center. It's a career she never dreamed of when she signed up for classes at Cuyahoga Community College... and one she says she couldn't be happier with.

Kimala Walker: Well I feel more secure, I have a little girl who is seven years old, I'm a single parent, so I feel more secure financially so I can provide a future for her. That's the biggest thing.

JH: Walker's ticket to her new high-tech career was a cooperative education program offered through a new career services center at Tri-C called Key Career Place. While earning her associate's degree in electronic engineering technology, Walker also served a two-year internship at NASA. And after completing her degree, she was hired on full-time by a NASA contractor.

KW: Being here at Tri-C and meeting so many wonderful people out at the NASA Glenn Research Center, the engineers and the technicians, really changed my life because it gave me something more to focus on in my future as far as professional development. I'm currently seeking my degree at Cleveland State University also in the evening while I'm working full-time out at NASA.

JH: Changing lives is what the Key Career Place is all about... says Executive Director Jean Appleby. In addition to helping Tri-C students find internship programs, the career center is open to the public and offers free training programs to any job seeker in Northeastern Ohio.

Jean Appleby: We focus on core workshops, resume writing assistance, we teach people job searching techniques, we teach them about the hidden job market. Only a fourth of the jobs that exist right now, this minute are advertised. And three-fourths you'd have to find through networking. So teaching people how to network effectively is really important.

JH: But Appleby points out that today's job hunters may need to learn more than how to network effectively. They may also need to upgrade their marketable skills. And Key Career Place can help with its assessment and training programs.

JA: There's a direct connection between people being prepared for what's demanded at work today and going back and getting additional education and training, particularly in information technology. Most companies have a very sophisticated computer network at this point. And most of their workforce is under-prepared to fully utilize all those technology tools to make their workday more productive and to help the company manage more effectively. So coming back and getting training to upgrade skills is really an ongoing process today. We used to go to school, and then to work, and then retire. Well things are different today.

JH: Daniel Berry of the Greater Cleveland Growth Association agrees that ongoing worker training is vital to our region's economic success. He says that workforce quality is one of the top three factors in determining where a company wants to locate or grow.

Daniel Berry: Several years ago, we began a workforce initiative to help our member companies address their workforce needs and found that at that time, as many of 60% of them were having difficulties finding workers with the kinds of skill sets that they needed. We know that in this region, which is not growing in terms of population direction, that we have to pay very much attention to up-scaling and increasing the education level of our current population.

JH: Berry also points out that boosting education levels in Northeastern Ohio doesn't necessarily mean that everyone has to earn a bachelor's degree. He says many jobs in the new economy require skills that can be acquired through a certification or associate's degree program. And if you need convincing, look no further than Kimala Walker.

KW: I would very much recommend it for anyone that wants to better their life or wants something to grab a hold of that will be challenging to ask questions, get into the educational field, and uh try to better your future, cause that's what I did. Especially women! We need more women... in that field, in the science and technology field.

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