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ARCHIVED  October 1, 1995

First comes work, then comes school

In today’s business world, you can’t stick to the status quo and survive.

Business is a competitive, talent-rich race, and you need to keep up. Stay ahead of the pack, and your productivity will soar, your margins will increase, and your business will grow. Fall behind, though, and you’ll get trampled.

For those that aren’t prepared, help is on the way from Northern Colorado’s colleges and universities, which offer programs to solve skill shortages that beset some of the region’s businesses.

“What I am hearing from businesses in the Northern Colorado region is that we have a problem with our work force being inadequately prepared, particularly in basic skills, and that our future work force is no better prepared,´ said Dick Wood, dean of continuing education at Aims Community College in Greeley. “Business people here are always telling me they’ve got to have a way of getting better-qualified direct labor or else they’re not going to be able to compete.

“They can get all the doctorate-level people or engineers or baccalaureate people out of college. But when it comes to the direct labor, the people who actually make the company operate, they’re finding those people very scarce, at least people who have some of the qualifications for which they are looking,” he said.

It’s no surprise that the region’s major companies, such as Eastman Kodak Co., Hewlett-Packard Co., RR Donnelley Norwest Inc., Starpak Inc., Anheuser Busch Co. Inc. and Woodward Governor Co., have all tapped local educational resources to get their employees the credentials necessary to function in the business world of the 21st century.

Aims Community College is just one of a handful of institutions available to Northern Colorado businesses. Front Range Community College, which operates a branch in Fort Collins, competes alongside Aims in the areas of quality-improvement programs, computer-software training and skill-building courses.

Unlike Aims, though, Front Range also offers credit classes in several academic domains, including business, journalism, marketing, philosophy, English, history and biology.

Colorado State University in Fort Collins and the University of Northern Colorado in Greeley offer a full slate of continuing-education services, from advanced- or secondary-degree programs to professional-development courses and seminars.

All four institutions offer group training, both for on-campus and off-site locations, as well as facility rental and correspondence courses. When it comes to supplemental training, there really isn’t anything the schools won’t provide.

“Anybody that calls in for any kind of training, we search for an expert on campus or somebody we have on file that can provide that kind of customized training,´ said Nancy Mercurio, interim director of continuing education and contracted services at Front Range Community College.

“The idea behind what we do is provide customized training so that employees of these companies don’t have to go through an entire program or course,” she added. “For example, we have several companies we’re teaching computer applications to, but in a condensed version that has been designed basically around their needs.”

Big firms need training

While Anheuser Busch coordinates much of its employee training in-house through its corporate headquarters in St. Louis, there is quite often a need to contract with local schools, said Julie McCrary, training coordinator at the Fort Collins office.

Recently, the company had a group of employees attend a purchasing-certificate program at the University of Colorado at Denver, while another group participated in a CU-Denver materials-management course on-site in Fort Collins.

“Additional training is done on an individual basis throughout the year,” McCrary said. “Most of our training is done in-house, but every now and then for personal development in certain departments, if there is an application that we can get assistance from, then we do use it.”

For example, in order to meet new federal regulations regarding the management of asbestos, a group of Anheuser Busch employees took a certified training class at Front Range Community College.

“We have very little asbestos on board here, but there are some new regulations coming out from the federal government, and we felt people needed to be trained and know what was going on,´ said Bonnie Newton, the on-site nurse at Anheuser Busch who schedules the training.

Computer training and retraining are among the most requested courses by companies in Northern Colorado. When companies change computer systems or update software packages, it’s usually more cost-effective and time-efficient to have an expert teach an entire group of employees than have individuals struggle with complicated manuals or get help from a personal tutor, Mercurio said.

Also high in demand are emergency-medical training, industrial-safety classes, purchasing classes and customer-relations seminars. A company can send an individual employee to a series of classes, or the company can contract with a school to create a custom training package.

“Usually, what we’ll do with those types of services is, we will try to find out what their needs are and then tailor-make a program for them, rather than having them take something we already offer,´ said Ann Steele, associate director for program development in the College of Continuing Education at UNC.

Work Keys program at Aims

To help companies meet the changing needs of today’s business world, Aims began a program called Work Keys in 1994. The school profiles jobs at individual companies, finding out specifically what skills are necessary and then outlining what kind of training is needed to obtain those skills. The school then interviews individual employees to see where they are in relation to those skills, and finally it designs an instructional program to help upgrade the identified skills.

Work Keys focuses on basic skills that most businesses would consider critical for every employee, including reading, writing, math, listening, teamwork skills and applied technology. The program is administered by the American College Testing System, the same company that publishes the ACT college-entrance exam.

The program has been used by companies as a means to bolster employee training, as well as a selection tool to upgrade the existing work force. Kodak, Hewlett-Packard and Starpak are a few of the Northern Colorado companies that have participated in the program to date.

“One of the problems with the way business was conducted in the past was that they basically asked workers to check their brains at the door,” Wood said. “They didn’t want you to think or do things creatively. They didn’t want you to do anything except basically become part of the machinery.”

But, in today’s business world, employees at every level are asked to do more and expected to operate in teams and take part in the necessary quality controls. That means there is a whole lot of retraining that must take place with the current work force.

“That retraining has got to be something that is geared specifically to the needs of the business,” Wood said, “not retraining from the standpoint of taking classes endlessly, but taking what’s needed in order to upgrade those skills so they can get back and be more productive in the work force.”

In today’s business world, you can’t stick to the status quo and survive.

Business is a competitive, talent-rich race, and you need to keep up. Stay ahead of the pack, and your productivity will soar, your margins will increase, and your business will grow. Fall behind, though, and you’ll get trampled.

For those that aren’t prepared, help is on the way from Northern Colorado’s colleges and universities, which offer programs to solve skill shortages that beset some of the region’s businesses.

“What I am hearing from businesses in the Northern Colorado region is that we have a problem with our work force being…

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