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Connecting Students to the Workplace

Connecting Students to the Workplace

TCC and Business Partners Develop the Workforce North Texas Needs to Succeed

Dallas-Fort Worth continues to rock when it comes to adding both new jobs and new residents. A sea of cranes towering above the skylines and expressways across North Texas points to healthy economic growth. New construction projects — along with expanded operations and relocations of corporate giants including General Motors, Toyota, Lockheed Martin, Delta Air Lines, Charles Schwab and Liberty Mutual — mean job openings in almost every industry.

The DFW region topped the nation's metro areas in employment gains in 2018, according to recent data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The area added 116,400 jobs last year, with trade, transportation and utilities driving the most growth for the 12-month period. The professional and business services sector was the second-largest job producer, followed by leisure and hospitality, which had the largest percentage increase at 4.1 percent.

Thanks to a strong economy and increased employment opportunities, Texas — and the Dallas-Fort Worth area in particular — continue to attract thousands of job seekers from out of state. Texas ranked second behind Florida for moves with almost 525,000 incoming residents in 2017, according to the latest nationwide relocation report by Austin-based Texas Realtors, a real estate trade association. The largest number of newcomers, more than 230,000, settled in Dallas-Fort Worth.

But along with the new buzz of activity come some old challenges — primarily the changing demands and needs of the labor market. Employers in many industries cannot find qualified workers. Industry change with evolving technology and automation has created a greater need for new hires with more advanced technical skills and current workers upskilled in up-to-date technology and industry trends. In greatest demand is talent with knowledge in the STEM fields — science, technology, engineering and mathematics — as well as with specialized training in areas such as advanced manufacturing, aerospace assembly and health care. In addition to technical proficiency, many advanced careers require the so-called soft skills such as leadership, communication, problem-solving and time management.

Many employers today also report a major problem attracting younger employees. Baby boomers continue to retire at a fast pace while millennials (roughly, ages 20 to 36), a group expected to have fewer children, are entering the workforce later.

"The aging workforce is a challenge. Younger workers are needed. It's hard to find skilled workers with knowledge of new technology. Technology has changed the skilled labor force," said a participant in a workforce development round table discussion hosted by Tarrant County College in 2018. Participants included management from the health care, manufacturing and transportation sectors as well as executives from local chambers of commerce. Across the board, participants said a solid workforce development system is critical to their success and the success of the DFW region. That success, they are discovering, relies on strong collaboration between business and educators.

"We have to partner with other companies and increase the partnership between on-the-job training and education,” one participant said. “We need training today for tomorrow."

Chamber executives agreed, adding that training — and retraining — employees with the skills they need is a key component in the future of education.

“Continuing education is a must,” a Chamber representative said. “We need to instill lifelong learning behavior.”

TCC takes the lead

Several decades ago, Tarrant County College recognized that workforce development programs needed to adapt to the changing demands of the labor market. With a growing understanding of local employment needs and gaps, including identifying short- and long-term technical skills training, TCC has become a recognized leader in the workforce business community.

“TCC’s mission is to provide affordable and open access to quality teaching and learning. In addition to traditional college courses and programs, corporate and workforce training is essential to the livelihoods of many Tarrant County residents,” said Jennifer Hawkins, director of Corporate Solutions & Economic Development (CSED).

Known as a workforce subject matter expert in education, the College prepares the next generation of business leaders with customized curriculum along with innovative training programs that give students hands-on, real-world experience. Partnering with area businesses and other workforce agencies — Workforce Solutions for Tarrant County, Texas Workforce Commission and the Toyota Technician Training and Education Network, to name a few — is one way the College continues to create and implement solutions to meet the needs of both job seekers and employers. CSED and Business Advisory Committees are two primary tools TCC uses in its business partnerships to develop the workforce Tarrant County and North Texas needs to thrive and grow.

Fostering a well-trained workforce

CSED began in 1997 and opened its doors at the TCC Opportunity Center in 2000. Originally called Corporate Services, the name was updated in 2014 to more accurately reflect the College’s local business partnerships and in growing business across Tarrant County.

Today, Corporate Solutions trains, on average, almost 4,000 workers yearly.

The team at CSED works directly with companies, community and economic development organizations and industry associations to identify the specific training gaps and develops customized programs to meet those needs. The department’s trainers are subject matter experts in their respective fields who come from a variety of business, technical, manufacturing and management backgrounds. Many hold nationally recognized certifications in their industries and in curriculum development.

Corporate Solutions offers a range of hands-on training, from computers, management and leadership, to language and safety as well as company- or industry-specific specialized technical training such as electronics, logistics, CNC Essentials, customer service and welding.

“We leverage the knowledge and skills of our instructors to provide businesses with customized corporate training. This benefits everyone because effective training helps businesses become more competitive and the training provides employees with transferable skills that will help them advance their careers,” Hawkins said.

To connect with employers across Tarrant County, the Corporate Solutions team participates in local chambers of commerce as well as community and networking events. Hawkins said in most cases, a company will contact CSED to discuss their training needs.

“This could be because they have identified an area in which they would like to see their employees improve, they would like to provide their current employees with additional skills and opportunities for advancement or because they would like assistance with their standard training such as new hire orientation, yearly compliance training, etc.” Hawkins said. “We begin by talking about these areas and recommending training that would be most beneficial for the company’s specific needs.”

Examples of past training contracts range from teaching 400 employees how to refurbish the iPhone before it was released in the United States to training security contractors before being deployed to assignments in Afghanistan. TCC CSED has partnered with major corporations including Lockheed Martin, Halliburton and General Motors to develop and deliver highly specialized training.

Depending on the training need, curriculum is developed either by the team of subject matter experts or obtained through certification organizations. Training can be conducted at the Opportunity Center or at a company site.

All employees who complete a class or program with Corporate Solutions receive a certificate of completion and CEUs. Some courses also offer certifications so the employees would receive nationally recognized credentials in addition to the certificate of completion and CEUs.

An estimated 50 percent of training dollars comes from Skills Development Fund Grants. Employees trained through these grants typically receive wage increases of one to three percent, according to Hawkins.

“Our training is designed specifically for employers’ needs. We work directly with our industry partners to design and maintain the relevancy of our short-term training programs. Because of this, our short-term training programs have very high completion and job placement rates,” Hawkins said. She cited a recent success rate with TCC’s Aerospace Manufacturing Training Program (AMTP). AMTP has had 24 participants graduate and of those, 21 have been placed in jobs.

One ongoing partnership is with Klein Tools in Mansfield. When the manufacturing company underwent a massive expansion a few years ago, Workforce Solutions and TCC partnered to provide the support Klein needed to hire qualified employees and provide training they needed to be successful on the job. The project was so successful, Klein Tools is currently partnering with TCC in its second Skills Development Fund grant. Training includes blueprint reading, welding, PLCs, project management and quality inspection. Through the course of this project, TCC will provide more than 5,000 hours of training to nearly 150 new and incumbent workers at Klein Tools.

Klein Tools also is building a new distribution center in Mansfield and has tapped TCC Corporate Solutions to train employees, particularly in areas such as material handling and logistics.

One of GM’s major suppliers benefiting from TCC Corporate Solutions is Flex-N-Gate Corp. (FNG). The Michigan-based company manufactures metal and plastic original equipment components and mechanical assemblies in the global automobile industry. In 2018, FNG relocated its Texas manufacturing operations and corporate offices from Arlington to Grand Prairie in a $175 million expansion.

Flex-N-Gate just completed its first Skills Development Fund grant with TCC Corporate Solutions. In just under eight months, TCC delivered 2,300 hours of training to 60 employees in areas including: electrical maintenance, hydraulics/pneumatics, mechanical training for maintenance, PLCs, quality statistics, product quality inspection, computer applications, and OSHA safety. This training was requested in advance of FNG’s move and expansion. Flex-N-Gate currently is working with CSED to prepare for a rapid expansion of its workforce in 2019-2020.

Don Cumming, general manager of Flex-N-Gate Texas, told REACH Magazine in 2018 the partnership between FNG and TCC is having a positive impact on both the company and the community.

“Workforce morale is very high and the team is excited about the future opportunities,” he said.

Cumming said FNG’s opportunity to take on higher skilled and higher paying jobs is a boost to the area’s economy.

Linking the Community

All career and technical programs at TCC are required by the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board to form advisory teams that meet formally at least once a year. Like TCC Corporate Solutions, these teams — or business advisory committees — foster a well-educated, highly trained workforce that meets the needs of local industry.

The 72 various advisory groups run the gamut from accounting, aviation and business, to health care, library and technology. Membership consists of community employers, employees, program graduates and civic leaders whose service is invaluable. TCC uses members’ input to improve workforce education programs and to keep programs relevant to today’s workplace. Members also help improve the skill set of future business leaders, who in turn help find and retain qualified talent.

“It’s established a two-way system of communication by informing the College of any needed changes such as in curriculum, workforce trends and skills, and knowledge our students need to succeed and find jobs. Our partners help us determine what programs and courses we can offer and make sure we have the highest quality programs,” said Alicia Lupinacci, chair of business and professor of marketing and management at TCC’s Trinity River Campus.

Ways Business Advisory Committee members can help TCC and students succeed:

  • Evaluate local labor needs
  • Advise on current trends, equipment and technology in the workforce/workplace
  • Offer workplace knowledge and skill sets
  • Review program course content and suggest revisions
  • Help develop long-range goals and plans for programs
  • Recommend instructional resources
  • Serve as a classroom speaker
  • Serve as a student mentor Identify local business and industry leaders
  • Offer externships, internships and job shadowing
  • Host career days, field trips, job fairs, networking events and scholarships
  • Participate in job placement of graduates
  • Promote TCC programs

“They can inform us of the equipment and technology they are using and help us to mirror, if possible, what they are using,” Lupinacci said. “They also advise the college personnel on what students can expect in their industries, things like employment trends and how to obtain a promotion within a certain company or industry. They are our link, our partners in helping us to find what is needed in the workplace.

“Committees are a unique connection,” she added. “They provide this three-way process between the College, student and business. It helps us and them.”

Each of the committees continues to evolve, as members come and go, said Lupinacci. New members join committees through referrals and through networking events such as job fairs.

“Some of our committee members have served a long time. A lot of them like to give back to the College. Members like to be useful and help us when they can,” she said.

Steve Meek serves on the Business Advisory Council at TCC Trinity River and says service can be rewarding for members and students alike. Meek is CEO and founder of The Fulcrum Group Inc., an award-winning IT managed services company based in Fort Worth. The firm provides outsourced IT support for business networks, cloud-based and voice over IP systems throughout North Texas.

“We meet, discuss, share and add new thoughts. We’ve discussed a variety of topics and some of their evolution,” Meek said. “I’ve provided real world input on rapidly evolving changes in cybersecurity, the technology landscape and business trends. I think the discussion allows content to grow and build upon textbook information.”

Meek said industry people can help TCC and students to succeed “by identifying needed skills earlier in the curricula development cycle or to educate the educators on important issues or needs.

“We can offer advice on new programs or innovative wisdom, books from our fields. Potentially, we can utilize TCC students in special projects or programs at our firms and provide real world experience,” he said. “And we can potentially mentor at-risk students with a second voice on earning a degree.”

Learn more TCC’s customized training programs.