East Central College is joining community colleges across the state to address a longstanding challenge facing Missouri businesses — the availability of a skilled workforce.
On Thursday, ECC President Dr. Jon Bauer joined other community college presidents, colleagues and business leaders in Jefferson City to establish the Missouri Community College Workforce Development Network.
The new network will tackle what groups like the Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry and other economic developers have said for years, namely that the state’s workforce system needs to change in order for Missouri to compete with other states for job creation projects.
“Economic development, more than anything, depends on a talented workforce,” Missouri Chamber of Commerce President Dan Mehan said. “No other issue is of more concern for businesses today. This network is the type of innovative solution Missouri needs to address workforce challenges.”
The most significant change resulting from the creation of the network will be that through their local community college, businesses will have access to resources at every college in the state.
“This will align our workforce development system directly with our economic development efforts,” Dr. Bauer explained. “Our goal is to improve customer service for businesses and help Missouri compete for job creation projects that too often go to other states.”
Currently, procedural and geographic barriers prevent colleges from working outside of their mandated service areas. This means that if a business approaches a college with a specific training need, but that college doesn’t have expertise in that field, then the business may not be able to get the workforce training its employees need.
“By breaking down these barriers and drawing upon our collective resources, each college is going to be able to play to its strengths,” Rob Dixon, Missouri Community College Association president said. “We will be able to serve businesses in every square inch of the state.”
Making the most of resources is going to be important given the cuts that have been proposed for community colleges and workforce development. The fiscal year 2018 budget being drafted by the legislature would cut workforce training by roughly 16 percent and community colleges by more than 9 percent.
“We understand the difficult budget situation facing the state, and with this partnership, we hope to help grow the state’s economy in two ways,” Dixon said. “First, we want to help Missourians learn the skills they need to earn higher pay, and second, we hope to connect Missouri businesses with the workforce they need to grow and create jobs.”