Spokane Journal of Business

Learning center opens in EWU facility here

Call-center training already under way; supervisory-skills program set to begin soon

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Eastern Washington University has opened up its building in downtown Spokane to a consortium that plans to offer job assessment and training to employees who work in the downtown core and to people who are looking for entry-level positions.

The consortium includes the Spokane Area Chamber of Commerce, Community Colleges of Spokane, the Washington state Department of Employment Security, Washington Mutual Bank, and EWU.

Last summer, the chamber and the community colleges told leaders of Focus 21, a five-year economic-development effort, that they planned to develop a downtown learning center and hoped to begin offering classes there this past January. Those plans were delayed, though, by organizers difficulty in finding adequate space downtown for such a center, says Rich Hadley, the chambers president and CEO.

When EWU President Steve Jordan heard about the plans, he offered the use of EWUs Spokane building at 705 W. Firstfree of charge. Jordan says the university uses the facility mostly at night to hold evening classes, and the structure isnt well-utilized during the day.

We are very excited about the opportunity to cooperate with the chamber, the community colleges, and the other groups involved with this program, Jordan says. We see it as a way we can help add value to the Spokane community.

The new learning center is intended to serve downtown employers in the professional services, health-care, and trade sectors who want to upgrade the skills of their workers and train new hires for entry-level jobs. It also will become the home of the downtown branch of the On-the-Job College program, which allows workers to take certain classes offered by the community colleges here at places other than at the colleges campuses.

Hadley says the need for the learning center is growing as the redevelopment of River Park Square nears completion, Travelers Property Casualty Corp. continues to expand its work force, and more companies move into the downtown core to take advantage of the fiber-optic network thats being developed there. Theres going to be a need to help those companies find qualified people, he says.

Four anchor programs will be offered at the downtown center on a continual basis, says Joanne Murcar, district work-force training coordinator for CCS and work-force development coordinator for the chamber. The programs include core competencies, which covers basic employment skills such as problem solving, time management, and how to work in teams; call-center and customer-service training; supervisory-skills development; and software and keyboarding training.

Murcar says the community colleges begun offering the call-center training program at the EWU facility downtown last month and expects the supervisory-skills development program and the core competencies program both to get under way soon.

The downtown learning centers use of the EWU building might be thwarted this June, however, when the states Higher Education Coordinating Board decides what should be done with EWUs downtown building, Jordan says. If the HEC board decides that the building must be sold, torn down, or converted to other uses, the learning center will have to find a new home, he says.

If the board decides to allow EWU to keep the building and to allow the activities there to continue, Jordan says he eventually hopes to renovate the front-entry of the building and remodel the lower level of the facility to provide more dedicated space to the downtown learning center. A timetable for such work hasnt been set yet, nor has funding for the project been sought.

Jordan expects the signs on the building to change soon to reflect the multiple uses of the facility. The name thats to appear on the signs hasnt been determined yet, he says.

Assessment under way

In addition to offering the four basic programs, the downtown learning center will offer additional courses and customized training when demand dictates, Murcar says. She currently is working with the state department of Employment Security to assess the learning needs of the downtown business community.

The consortium already is holding focus groups and on-site interviews at about 40 different companies in the downtown area. Next, Murcar will be interviewing by phone an even broader group of employers to ensure that the classes that are going to be offered at the center will be relevant to the people who work downtown.

The courses will be offered as part of the On-the-Job College program, which was started by the chamber and the community colleges about two years ago. That program is intended to provide employed workers with education counseling, career planning, and various courses required for a vocational or technical degree. It currently is offered in the Spokane Valley and on the West Plains, and now will be offer in the downtown area at the learning center.

Washington Mutuals involvement with the downtown learning center is connected to the banks involvement with the Welfare-to-Work program called WorkFirst.

The community colleges, under a grant with Washington Mutual, has been working to assess the skill levels of WorkFirst participants and then match each persons skills to a potential job in the downtown area. That assessment will be conducted at the downtown learning center. WorkFirst participants also can receive additional training at the center to supplement the skills they already possess.

  • Lisa Harrell

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