Both the American Manufacturing Association and the Professional Aviation Maintenance Association report a shortage of skilled technicians of hundreds and thousand of jobs.   They are just two industry sectors facing this challenge and with thousands of older technicians reaching retirement age, the trend may even accelerate.  Workers needed to fill these positions typically require a two -year degree or less and hands-on training on specialized equipment.  Other skills sets are also required, but these can also be met by community and technical colleges.  So why the shortfall?

Coherent Marketing has some solutions to this question, but first, some context is necessary to understand the problem better. 

Community colleges are, as is apparent in their name, required to serve their communities.  But in a global economy, while community colleges may be able to provide excellent technical training locally, they are often poorly equipped in their capabilities to compete with branding and communications in the global skills marketplace, something required to meet this challenge. Simply put, a local communications focus is at odds with one requiring regional, state, national or international visibility. In a 24/7, always-on world, decisions made by industry are based on the quality of information about a subject.  If information about workforce programs are difficult to find, spotty in quality, riddled with education-speak, or simply absent, the ramifications both exacerbate the workforce shortages and also impact economic development.

In interactions with community colleges for the past eight years, what I've typically found are communications departments staffed by just a few people, sometimes often just one or two.  Functions assigned to them include managing content on the website, media relations, student recruiting, marketing, advertising and doing tasks like shooting pictures for events.  Today it also includes social media.  While this may in and of itself may sound like a typical communications manager job description, it should be remembered that community colleges may have dozens of departments, and as a result, these staff are stretched very thin.  They simply cannot do justice to all the subject matter they must cover. Providing sustained, smart, targeted communications campaigns for just one department and collaborating with multiple outside organizations is too time and resource intensive.

b2ap3 large NCAMA image 01But providing targeted communications for advanced manufacturing, including biomanufacturing and skilled technical workforce development is a cost-effective economic development tool.  By providing capacity and developing strategic collaborations, industry needs can be met, economic development fostered, the pool of students interested in technical careers increased, and regional solutions found.  This latter point is key, since it builds on the strengths and capabilities of a consortium of community colleges, rather than expecting single community colleges to compete with globalization. Building a line-item for communications funding into grants, which often underpin education development, needs to be a key element.

Coherent Marketing has been involved in two initiatives demonstrating this. 

b2ap3_thumbnail_BioNetwork-logo.pngPreviously, the principal was involved in a statewide biotechnology workforce development initiative that received international acclaim.  It saw more than 20 community colleges making up NC BioNetwork, the department of commerce, non-profits, the university system, and industry all work together on developing programs and then marketing those programs.  At the time I left, the BioNetwork website was attracting half a million hits a month from a global audience and the state had attracted biotech giants like Merck and Novartis to manufacture to build manufacturing facilities in the state.  The initiative had communications funding as part of its startup funds and once established was able to sustain the communications infrastructure developed through a range of solutions.

Currently, Coherent Marketing is providing strategic communications services to a 10-community college consortium that received an $18 million grant from the U.S. Department of Labor.  Already the Advanced Manufacturing Alliance has been identified by the DOL as a leading example of a successful workforce development initiative.  Most of that money is being spent on new equipment that is the same or similar to that found in industry today.  New coursework is also being developed and video teaching tools of processes and tasks shared on iTunes U.  Students who complete coursework successfully are being placed as interns with local companies, giving them the real chance of converting that internship into a permanent placement. 

b2ap3_thumbnail_NCAMA-icon.jpgBut a key difference of this initiative is that the 10 colleges have their own targeted website and all 10 colleges are contributing a small sum into a joint pool for branding, marketing and communications.  It enabled a site to be launched providing a range of features that extend the capacity of the individual colleges. 

Some of the features of the site include:

  • Multimedia capabilities to use images and video to show equipment and training capabilities, boosting credibility and with metadata to ensure it will show up in search.
  • Targeted jargon-free information for industry, including the equipment and skills students are training on; equipment matching industry standards.
  • Information valuable to students considering a career in advanced manufacturing
  • A video meeting portal where up to 12 members from the statewide initiative can log in and video conference to discuss issues and share best practices
  • Online storage for large file transfers such as video, powerpoints and other files
  • Localized pages developed specifically for each community college
  • A blog platform for news and updates with built-in sharing capabilities, email notifications and social media tools
  • Sufficient sophistication to enable statewide access to portions of the site to easily update information while also being able to separate out sections so that particular users can take responsibility for specific parts of the site, all with an easy to use platform so that non-web-savvy users can participate.

The site enables colleges to share information with stakeholders that include the DOL, industry, potential students looking for a career in advanced manufacturing, their local communities, and economic developers.

Coherent Marketing will be assisting with a second phase in 2013 to develop partnerships with state and national organizations to begin marketing the pipeline of specialized trained workers that they are producing and growing the manufacturing base in the state.  Lessons learned from other workforce initiatives will be implemented and the expectation is that growth potential is significant.

As much as community colleges provide wonderful training and reskilling to workers for 21st Century knowledge economy jobs, unless they are able to market those programs to both industry and the next generation in high school, trends are unlikely to be reversed and the local value of the jobs created will be slowed.  Coherent Marketing can assist grant winners and seekers with proven methods and solutions to build partnerships, develop marketing and communications infrastructure, sustain communications, and as a result, grow their jobs base.  Like justice, which must be seen to be done to be done, workforce development programs cannot be effective unless branded and then marketed directly and clearly.

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