Written by Connie Woodard
Questions from all sides of the room bombarded members of a panel discussion at the TAACCCT On! Conference hosted by the Washburn University TRAC-7 Consortium in Topeka last month. Hungry for answers on how to work with Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) case managers and Workforce Centers, grant participants turned the session into a roundtable discussion.
“How can we get our materials into the workforce centers?”
“What percentage of those TAA-eligible end up in the training available?”
“What do you do with the TAA-eligible who are digitally illiterate?”
“How important is it to work with the student to find the ‘right fit?’”
Networking with colleagues, face-to-face conversations with experts from the Department of Labor (DOL), and breakout sessions that addressed relevant topics and questions allowed grantee participants to find answers and information they sought at the TAACCCT On! Conference.
“A lot of the topics really connected with the challenges or the main components of our grant, such as discussions of management, work force connections, and some of the technological components – all of those are important to our grant,” said Todd Mattison, project manager at Northeast Wisconsin Technical College, a lead college representing a consortium of 16 technical colleges.
With built-in networking opportunities and informative breakout sessions, the TAACCCT On! Conference delivered.
“The conference was great! I left with some wonderful information as well as a few new contacts for any further questions,” wrote one of the 100 participants in a post conference survey.
This conference “has really shown that everybody has similar problems,” said Seth Carter, grant director for TRAC-7 at Flint Hills Technical College, Emporia. “Regardless of where you are geographically, it doesn’t matter if you’re in Wisconsin or Kansas, our primary focus is how can we help these students, what can we do to make our program better?”
The TRAC-7 schools used grant funding, in part, to respond to student and industry needs in Kansas, by designing mobile classrooms, labs and training facilities that can be driven and parked at another campus, an industry parking lot or a power substation in the middle of nowhere. Once they are plugged in, students or employees can use the mobile classroom’s computers and microscopes for industry certifications, Agri-Biotechnology labs or for electrical lineman training.
Conference participants and the public were able to tour the mobile classrooms at a Sneak Peek event, ask questions of instructors and learn how they shared among the TRAC-7 consortium.
Many of the grantees credited the TAACCCT grants with enabling them to be more responsive to industry needs, create new curriculum with stacked and latticed credentials, modify programs to meet certified industry standards, purchase state-of-the-art equipment, and market the retraining programs to new and long-term employees.
“Even though the economy is improving, there continues to be a gap between the more advanced technological and manufacturing skills and workers that are trained to meet those skills,” Mattison said. “All 16 colleges were able to customize their programs to change their teaching methods and delivery toward advanced manufacturing.”
“There is so much great information that came out of (this conference),” said Tom Hooper, DOL’s program manager for the TAACCCT grants. “It’s clear that there is a tremendous commitment and passion among the grantee community for the programs themselves – that was just great to see.”
The conference was a great learning opportunity for the DOL as well.
“I know that I learned even more about specific strategies that are being implemented by grantees, and specific innovations that they’re making,” Hooper said. “Then we also got a really good sense of areas where they can use additional support and that will help us define our TAA strategies and continue working on ways to support them in an even better fashion.”