By Susan Chan Shifflett, Project Manager, TAACCCT Initiative, American Association of Community Colleges

Terri Burgess Sandu is the director for talent and business innovation at Lorain County Community College, which leads Ohio TechNet, a partnership that launched with 11 Ohio community colleges, several hundred employers, workforce partners from 71 counties, and the State of Ohio. Ohio TechNet was designed to accelerate the readiness for workers who are in transition to fill in-demand, skilled jobs in high-need areas such as welding, Computer Numerical Control (CNC) machining, industrial maintenance, digital fabrication/industrial automation, and occupational safety. The program was developed through the U.S. Department of Labor’s Trade Adjustment Assistance Community College and Career Training (TAACCCT) grant, a major $1.9 billion investment to increase the ability of community colleges to address the challenges of today’s workforce. In the interview, Ms. Burgess Sandu shared TAACCCT's impact on Ohio's community colleges, workforce education, industries, and residents.

Q: Five years from now, what do you think the lasting impact of the TAACCCT grant will be on your community?

A: In Ohio, I think one of the most significant outcomes for us has been building a very strategic partnership with over 400 local employers, and a collaborative infrastructure among our higher education partners that will outlast the grant. Today we are thrilled to have engagement with all 23 Ohio community colleges, as well as two public universities in Ohio TechNet.

A big reason for that is that we’ve built a very strong partnership with the Ohio Manufacturers’ Association (OMA), which represents between 1,400 and 1,500 manufacturers in Ohio, the majority of which are small or medium-sized enterprises, including enterprises with fewer than 20 people.

These partnerships help employers develop a more coherent, consistent voice through regional industry-led sector partnerships, which then benefits all employers and helps all of us in higher education to be more efficient and streamlined. Building on our TAACCCT work, five years from now, I think that Ohio will be a leader in solving the manufacturing workforce skills gap due to the strategic alliances that have formed among industry, community colleges and other higher education partners across the state.

Q: How did the TAACCCT grant help you to grow your work with the Ohio Manufacturers’ Association?

A: Our partnership with OMA has been about two years in the making now. The TAACCCT grant provided critical capacity for us to be thoughtful in that partnership, and to actually bring resources to the table that has helped make this partnership stronger. This included both staff capacity to serve as part of the workforce leadership team with OMA to stand up its statewide strategy, and direct resource investments to support, for example, the launch of an exciting new recruitment campaign that will help all of us to reach new audiences for manufacturing careers.

Q: What type of impact has TAACCCT had across the consortium of colleges?

A: Another lasting impact of TAACCCT is getting us to work differently together. Because we are all very lean organizations, we may not always have the capacity to partner in ways that we would like to do. TAACCCT has enabled us to tap into the pockets of expertise of the other community colleges in our consortium. For example, with the expansion of the Registered Apprenticeships, our colleagues at Rhodes State College have been a leader in Ohio, so they were able to help a number of us in partnering with our state to become registered sponsors of records. Rhodes State College was the first Ohio community college to be approved as a Department of Labor’s Registered Apprenticeship sponsor. The College’s RA program rapidly expanded, from 39 apprentices when launched in 2012 to 130 (and growing) today, with 89 of those apprentices being under the college sponsorship model.

There are now 10 Ohio community colleges that are working with the Ohio State Apprenticeship Council. Six of those 10 colleges were members during the grant and are Ohio TechNET partners, and many of them benefitted from the expertise of the team at Rhodes State to set up their program. The capacity for Rhodes to offer that additional, in-depth technical assistance was supported by the TAACCCT grant.

Q: How have you been able to leverage the TAACCCT grant?

A:
One way we’ve been able to leverage the TAACCCT grant is to work with OMA to help create a new website called makingohio.com, intended to drive interest in manufacturing careers and assist with skills gap issues in Ohio. The website will live on past the TAACCCT grant. OMA is covering the hosting costs and they’re also bringing in strategic leadership over the long term.

We’ve also been able to leverage the TAACCCT grant—working with SkillsCommons— to partner with OMA to create a portal with what’s the “best of the best” in manufacturing tools and resources on SkillsCommons. The portal is available through the OMA website at http://oma.skillscommons.org. It is branded as part of the OMA workforce services. A company may think, “I want my local school to do welding. What type of curriculum exists?” Hopefully they won’t have to start at square one because they will see there are many assets on this OMA-branded portal that is SkillsCommons behind the scenes, which can help them to accelerate getting that type of program. Companies are also able to use resources for their own internal training purposes and we’ve already had Ohio manufacturers take advantage of that.

Q: What are you seeing in terms of TAACCCT’s impact on participant wages?

A:
We are seeing that about 70 percent of our participants were incumbent when they enrolled. And they have earned a 36 percent increase in their earnings, on average.

Q: Can you share the impact of the TAACCCT grant on the participants, in terms of a before and after?

A:
We’ve seen that students are completing programs at higher rates, faster, and with more credits. Two of our students here at Lorain County Community College —one was a postal worker and one was an HVAC technician—were gentlemen in their fifties who, because of physical challenges, couldn’t do that work anymore. So they were really excited to get into the earn and learn program that we launched here with the TAACCCT grant in the advanced manufacturing field of microelectronics. Since then, both have gone on to get full time jobs in the fields.

At Lakeland Community College, they used the TAACCCT grant to modularize their welding program, so they’ve been able to accelerate people much faster through their skills training and align courses with national credentials from the American Welding Society. They’ve seen participants go very rapidly from $13/hour to up to $26/hour. At Sinclair Community College, they have been leaders in the launch of a competency-based program for manufacturing. They’ve had some students who were able to complete an eight-week program in two weeks.

We’re excited that the Ohio TechNet consortium has grown, and will continue to partner with OMA and other state leaders, to support adoption and scaling of these and other high-impact strategies.

This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.