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As the population of younger generations surges and baby boomers retire at a quick pace, employers are left between a rock and a hard place. Along with low unemployment rates, the resulting impact is a lack of skilled workers to fill specialized jobs.
That’s where Ozarks Technical Community College’s Center for Workforce Development steps in to chip away at the problem.
“In a nutshell, employers need workers. That is why this is such a hot topic,” says Sherry Coker, executive director of OTC’s Center for Workforce Development. “We knew the storm was coming. We knew that there was going to be a crisis, but now the crisis is real.
“That’s why right now, you’re seeing there’s more jobs than there are people to fill jobs.”
Coker and her team work with area businesses to determine industries and job types that need more skilled workers. The center provides specialized training programs and suggests courses that can help current employees move to the next level. She says there are floating instructors at OTC prepared to step in when specialized training is needed.
“We’ll design and customize a curriculum just for those people,” she says, noting the center also advises on apprenticeships and business resources.
Businesses and employees alike are benefiting from the center’s services.
In the past three years, OTC’s Center for Workforce Development partnered with more than 100 businesses and organizations to develop the skills of some 11,250 individuals in the region.
The general idea, she says, is to grow the professional development of companies’ high performers. If a company invests in its employees, those workers are more likely to stay with them, she says.
“When the employer wins, the employee wins as well,” Coker says.
It’s also a win for OTC, which generates revenue providing training, and the region, as Coker says students who study at community colleges are more likely to live and work in the area.
“If the college isn’t meeting the needs of our area employers, we’d be out of business tomorrow,” she says.
Coker, who recently took over as executive director of the center to succeed four-year leader Jim Abramovitz, points to a manufacturing client as an example. She says the company was preparing for several retirements.
“In the matter of 10 years, their whole department of 20 people was going to turn over,” she says. “You’re not going to find someone off the street to come in and do the job someone has spent 30 years doing. You have to couple entry-level skills with on-the-job experience.
“Regardless of whether you’re at City Utilities or whether you’re at a hospital, the same is true.”
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