More employers are showing interest in customized training through Inland Northwest community colleges, something officials from both North Idaho College and Community Colleges of Spokane point to as proof of a thriving economy.
At North Idaho Colleges Workforce Training Center, the increase in customized training coincides with a substantial jump in enrollment in all its courses. Enrollment in non-customized courses has decreased slightly, however, at the Community Colleges of Spokanes Institute of Extended Learning as the number of classes offered there has been decreased.
With customized training, the interest has come from companies in a spectrum of industries that are changing locations or are experiencing growth.
My working theory is that the activity tends to track with the economy, says Robert Ketchum, director of NICs Workforce Training Center, in Post Falls. This kind of increase is more likely to happen when the economy is good.
Joanne Murcar, interim dean of the Community Colleges of Spokanes Institute for Extended Learning, says that because of the strong economy, Theres a different atmosphere. People and employers are more interested in training than they had been over the previous three or four years.
Ketchum says that over the last year, NICs center has provided contract training for Cascade Windows, the food distributor Sysco Corp., and the Idaho Association of County Treasurers, among others. In all, private-contract work was up 65 percent in fiscal 2005, compared with 2004.
The Institute for Extended Learning provided training to four concerns last year through Washington states job-skills program, which provides matching funds for worker training, Murcar says.
Companies that received training through that program include Huntwood Industries, a Spokane Valley-based cabinetmaker; the Metaline Falls, Wash.-based operation of mining company Teck Cominco Ltd.; and Omega Pacific Inc., a climbing-equipment maker here. The fourth was an industry training program established to teach those in the construction industry sustainable-building techniques.
That level of interest was up compared with 2004 and 2003, when IEL provided training through the state job-skills program to a total of three companies.
The state cut funding for the job-skills program, and IEL has enough money to offer only one training program in fiscal year 2006, Murcar says. The school, however, has a backlog of four companies that want to train their employees through the program in the event that more money becomes available, she says.
In addition to the job-skills program, IEL provides training for private employers on a contract basis.
Murcar says interest on that front had been quiet for the past three years, but inquiries from employers have picked up significantly over the past four months.
A lot of activity is starting to bubble, she says. Were expecting to see a lot of activity in the next little bit.
After a few years of relatively little activity, the school decided to hire a salesman to pitch contract training to local employers, and that effort has generated strong leads so far, Murcar says.
NIC includes in its enrollment figures workers involved in customized training, and its work-force training centers overall enrollment increased in its fiscal year 2005, which ended June 30, by 6 percent, to 7,000 from 6,575 the year earlier.
The number of courses those students took at the training center, however, jumped much more sharply. The school reported that the 7,000 students took a total of 12,800 courses last year, up 37 percent from 9,300 courses in 2004 and well above the previous high of 9,700 set in 2000. Courses, in this instance, range from a one-time, three-hour cooking course to a 4 1/2-month leg of an apprentice program. Each counts as one course, regardless of length.
In many cases, Ketchum says, students are seeking job-specific education that allows them to enter a particular field in a matter of weeks or months. In other instances, more people are taking hobby and special-interest classessuch as golf lessons or art classes, among othersoffered through the community colleges.
Ketchum says enrollment increases have been strongest in the NIC training centers real estate agent training courses and in construction apprenticeship programs. Some other courses, such as a six-week certified nursing assistant class, are popular because of the high job-placement rate for those who finish it and attain certification.
Community Colleges of Spokanes IEL offered 803 classes that a total of 5,300 students attended. The previous year, it offered 867 courses that attracted 5,700 students. Those figures dont include its customized training activity.
Murcar says IEL will add some programs this school year, though, that it hopes will appeal specifically to working professionals.
Those include a leadership series and a supervisor series, each of which will include five four-hour sessions and will be taught at CenterPlace at Mirabeau Point, in Spokane Valley.
The school also is looking to add similar seminars on topics such as professional development, team building, and creating change in the workplace.
We have several more of these series that weve determined would be very interesting, Murcar says.
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