Area technical colleges are seeking to reverse that perspective by carefully cultivating relationships with employers to help graduates have a leg up once they hit the job market.
FVTC has become more proactive in fostering relationships with area businesses, says Gary Kilgas, who recently stepped into a new employer relations role for FVTC after serving as dean of the college’s graphics arts program and the Bordini Center for nine years where he developed relationships with area businesses. He now regularly goes out and meets with employers one-on-one or in small groups to talk to them about the college and its offerings and to listen to their needs.
“Those visits have definitely paid off. I will meet with a company and then a week or so later, I’ll get a message from them that they have a job opening and can we post it on TechConnect,” Kilgas says.
TechConnect, a collaborative effort of the 16 colleges that make up the Wisconsin Technical College System, is an online employment information system. Free to employers and students, jobs are posted daily and it’s easy for employers to post a listing targeting the technically skilled workforce they need.
“The whole technical college model is based on the premise that after one or two years of education, the students must be employable. That means we must be attuned to what employers are looking for when it comes to workers,” says Mark Weber, dean of the trades and technical department at Northeast Wisconsin Technical College.
Paying attention to what skills employers need is essential in establishing relationships between the colleges and local businesses, says Bruce Weiland, student employment services director for Fox Valley Technical College. Without those relationships, it is more difficult for colleges to serve their two customers – students and local businesses.
“We really want employers to partner with us. We can help them by filling their job openings and they can help us by telling us what kind of skills they’re looking for in employees,” Weiland says.
Michele Sabel, employment services specialist for Moraine Park Technical College, says TechConnect is a key piece of the puzzle for all students seeking to maintain relationships with companies in the hiring mode.
In addition to personal visits, area employers also receive either a printed or electronic postcard from the college talking about its available services. “We want to remain top of mind,” Weiland says.
Employers – who may not have job openings now – understand the importance of a properly trained workforce, Weber says.
“At some point, employers know the economy will come back and that need for workers will be there. 2008 was robust and smart companies know they face a coming labor shortage as boomers retire,” he says. “You need a workforce that’s prepared to step into those jobs. We know the recession will end and that if they don’t have the right people with the right skills in the right positions, they won’t come out stronger.”
Connecting students, employers
When it comes to bringing students and potential employers together, technical colleges use several tactics.
Several times a year, on-campus job fairs are held and employers also have the opportunity to speak to different classes, hold on-site interviews and post jobs on TechConnect. Employers can also visit the campus and see first-hand what’s going on.
Sabel says employers are encouraged to come to any of Moraine Park’s three campuses and meet with students about any open positions at their business. Employers can showcase their business, accept applications and resumes and even conduct on-site interviews.
Weber says technical colleges like NWTC have been able to keep the lines of communication open with area businesses by engaging them in the different advisory panels for their programs. Each degree and diploma program has an advisory committee made up of volunteers from local employees working in that field or who hire people in that field. The committee meets twice a year – once in fall and once in spring – to go over the curriculum for that particular degree to make sure the college is producing employees who have what it takes to succeed in that field. At NWTC, there are 748 employers represented on advisory committees.
“We want to make sure we’re on target and that we’re listening to companies about the skills that are needed,” Weber says.
Weiland agrees the advisory panels play an essential role in keeping the lines of communication open between the college and the business community, where more than 525 businesses and organizations participate in program and curriculum development. “Those committees are the lifeblood for the college,” he says.
And while employers may not have jobs right now, Weiland says FVTC wants to stay proactive and work with the local business community.
“We want them to trust that when they contact us or hire one of our alumni, they are getting a student with the right set of skills for their job,” he says.