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Editor’s note: This is an excerpt from an article in the August/September edition of the Community College Journal, the bimonthly magazine of the American Association of Community Colleges.
Nowhere is the reputation of community colleges as the workforce development engine of America being tested more than in communities that rely on the strength of the automotive industry.
It is no secret that most automakers face enormous challenges. Communities are suffering from high unemployment rates, the result of the disappearance of hundreds of thousands of jobs. Out of work and in need of new skills, job seekers routinely turn to the nation’s community colleges for a fresh start.
Initiated by community colleges in Michigan, Indiana, Ohio and Iowa, and joined by colleges in Illinois, Wisconsin, Kentucky, and Tennessee, the Auto Communities Consortium is a “learning network” created with manufacturing-driven communities in mind.
The consortium, with funding provided by the Joyce Foundation and Lumina Foundation, encourages community colleges to face common challenges by coordinating activities that spur new employment within and outside the auto industry.
For most of these communities, relying solely on the auto industry for future employment growth is not realistic. Instead, the goal is to collaborate with local economic development organizations and create meaningful programs that prepare students for jobs in emerging career sectors.
Pooling around sectors
Ivy Tech Community College (ITCC) in Indiana, for example, has partnered with local energy companies and the Indiana Department of Workforce Development to form the Indiana Energy Consortium (IEC) to promote career opportunities in the energy industry and develop a homegrown talent pool to fill administrative and management openings. In 2008, ITCC received a $1-million U.S. Department of Labor grant to provide scholarships in the northwest, central and southwest regions of the state. To date, 345 students have enrolled in classes, and 89 have completed their training and received certificates or associate degrees.
Lorain County Community College in northeast Ohio has been an aggressive promoter of economic growth and development in its region. The college recently established the Entrepreneurship Innovation Center, which will include one of the first sensor commercialization labs on a community college campus in the country. The college also launched a new Innovation Fund that provides pre-seed financial support to their training and received certificates or associate degrees.
The college also launched a new Innovation Fund that provides pre-seed financial support to entrepreneurs and emerging businesses. The fund so far has produced more than 130 new internships; 100 new jobs in the community, with an average annual salary of $48,000; and a total economic impact of more than $65 million.
Macomb Community College in Michigan established the Center for Advanced Automotive Technology (CAAT) in September 2010, one of 40 Advanced Technological Education Centers funded by the National Science Foundation.
CAAT focuses on the need for skilled technicians as the transportation economy shifts from petroleum-powered engines to advanced vehicle propulsion systems. The center will develop advanced automotive technology education and use strategic partnerships with industry, education, government and professional organizations to support local economic development.
The common thread tying all of these automotive- and manufacturing-based communities together is the existence of a comprehensive community college. Together, these institutions can help displaced workers find their way back into the job market. Thirty-four community colleges in 16 states currently participate in the consortium. These colleges have come together not only to retrain and educate this population in acquiring new skills and knowledge, but also to help each other form efficient and meaningful educational strategies.
Jacobs is president of Macomb Community College in Michigan.
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