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It seems more often people are getting educated, but not finding a job to use that education.   The Kansas Department of Commerce heard repeatedly from the local food manufacturing companies that needed quality, skilled entry-level employees. To meet this demand, the Department of Commerce developed Workforce AID (Aligned with Industry Demand), a new statewide pilot project developed in conjunction with community and technical colleges, including Washburn Tech.

Washburn Tech, in cooperation with area food manufacturing companies and in partnership with GO Topeka, is launching a new training initiative called Manufacturing Technology or M-Tech. The program provides students intensive technology training and prepares them to earn a national industry credential, Certified Production Technician. Graduates have a greater opportunity to receive an entry level position with local manufacturers, including: Bimbo Bakeries, Big Heart Pet Brands, Frito –Lay, Hill’s Pet Nutrition, and Mars Chocolate North America.  And to top it off, for a limited time, funding from Commerce is available for adults who qualify.

“Our goal was to meet the employer’s demands,” said Zoe Thompson, director of Workforce Training and Education at the Kansas Board of Regents and directs the Workforce AID pilot project at the Kansas Department of Commerce. “Employers define the skills and curriculum they need. This project is education linked to a job.”

According to Stan Ahlerich, executive director of the Governor’s Council of Economic Advisors, the timing was right for this kind of program, and it is already making a difference.

“We are changing people’s lives,” Ahlerich said. “We have heard great things from the students in the program.”

Changing Lives

Angela Cain, 47, graduated from the program in June. Previously Cain and her husband both worked for Goodyear. When the strike occurred in 2006, they were without an income for three months. After that experience, they decided it would be better if they weren’t employed at the same business. Cain took the buyout opportunity Goodyear offered in 2009 and sought employment elsewhere.

When Mars Chocolate North America came to Topeka, Cain knew she wanted to work there. She applied six different times for six different positions, but she was never hired.

“I was on the Topeka Workforce website homepage looking for jobs when I saw the announcement for the course at Washburn Tech,” Cain said.

She applied for the program, was admitted and completed the course in June. With her new set of skills and certifications, Cain was able to get a job at Mars Chocolate North America and began work in August.

“It is really hard to get hired, but with this program you have an advantage,” Cain said. “People are out there hitting walls, and this program helps you get your foot in the door. Even if you have been in production before, the program is a very positive thing.”

Cain said one of her favorite parts of the training was “Industry Visits.” Local manufacturing companies came to the class and visited with the students to inform them about their companies, policies and employment opportunities. Ahlerich says these visits are a crucial element to the project. Because the manufacturers helped develop the course, graduates learn exactly what these companies want their employees to know for an entry-level positon, and, as a result, are more likely to be hired.

“The program is very much a roll up your sleeves, go to the employers and find out what employers need and want,” Ahlerich said.

There are pilot projects ongoing across Kansas with participation from more than 25 companies and more than 100 students enrolled. Of the 50 students who have completed training, 38 of those have found jobs.

The first phase of the Topeka pilot program involved Topeka area food manufacturers. The second phase, which launched June 16, will partner with companies such as Goodyear, Innovia Films and PTMW, Inc.

To enroll in M-Tech, contact Luci Zieman at Washburn Tech by calling 785-670-2373 or contact Gina Coffman at Topeka Workforce Center.

Funding Economic Development

Funding Economic Development

Last Word: Sterbenz

Last Word: Sterbenz