Rim Country Businesses: Get Proactive On Work Force Development

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re than a year ago, when an ad-hoc group of Rim Country civic and business leaders launched the Northern Gila County Higher Education Needs Assessment, there were two "hot buttons":

One was to provide a curriculum at the Payson campus of Gila Community College that allowed students to attain an Associates of Arts Degree within a contiguous two-year period, so students can move on to our universities or simply the rest of their lives on a timely basis. Under the leadership of our new Payson campus dean, Pamela Butterfield and her colleague Dr. Joe Shannon, I am excited to say that effort is well under way.

The second demand was for a strong educational effort to advance the quality, skills and, hopefully, the earning power of the many people -- spanning all ages -- who work, want to work or need to work.

Thanks to the time, effort and commitment of Dr. Stephen Cullen and Margo Bracamonte, deans of Globe campus and Gila Community College, respectively, the comprehensive Workforce Readiness Training & Education Curriculum is now up and running at the Payson campus. It should also be noted that $20,000 of "seed financing" for this program was generously committed by Gila County Supervisors Shirley Dawson and Tommie Cline Martin.

However, if our businesses are to benefit fully from it, our business leaders now need to roll up their sleeves, learn about its incredible scope and flexibility to meet their own needs, and take some proactive steps to help us maximize its impact and effectiveness.

The best way to get fully informed is to meet personally with Dr. Cullen, who is spending a great deal of time working out of the Payson campus, making contact with various businesspeople here. Of course, there are other key people at the campus who are tasked to make various aspects of the program take flight, including Kathy Nyetrae and Jerry McCreary. Working closely with them is Ron Nielsen, director of the Small Business Development Center.

The curriculum is based on two distinct tracks:

Education on Basic Life-Skills and Employment Skills; and,

Career and Occupation-specific areas.

From the workers point of view, the program focuses on both adult learners who aspire to enter the work force and on those who are currently employed and want to advance their careers.

However, from an employer's point of view, this program can have a critical benefit. Successful businesspeople will tell you that the key to making your enterprise run right is to hire right! There are many things that impede that process, including the time it takes to interview thoroughly, to screen a number of candidates, and simply to make the right decisions from relatively fragmentary information provided under short-term time pressures.

The Work Force Readiness Curriculum is geared to work with employers, looking to fill various needs, by essentially helping students not only define their current capabilities, aptitudes and goals, but to clearly hear what is expected in today's workplace.

Grooming, punctuality, communication with the employer when problems arise and above all customer service: Some things that many of us would consider second nature in the workplace may need to be taught or at least refreshed for these workers to become valuable.

"Attitude" is such a key factor in customer service positions and yet it is a very ticklish area for employers to provide criticism and instruction. The college's Workforce Readiness Training program can deal with that more directly than employers can.

There's another aspect of the program that can be equally productive for Rim Country employers: The Workforce Readiness program can also be looked on as a "finishing school" for workers you already have. In some respects, employers can encourage specific workers to take certain specific classes in the program to augment their strengths or deal with their weaknesses. As every employer knows, it's a lot more costly to have high employee turnover (with all the rehiring and retraining involved) than it is to take a few timely steps to invest in enhancing the skills of existing employees to make them more valuable to the organization and more functional in their own lives.

In short, the time is NOW for Rim Country employers to put some effort behind the program at Gila Community College's Payson campus that is being designed to meet those work force development needs they highlighted so clearly a year ago.

To get going, call Dr. Cullen for an appointment. The Payson campus number is (928) 468-8039.

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