ARCHIVED  August 1, 1997

Schools, employers, economy bear blame

The dearth of employees qualified to meet the region’s labor needs has, in part, been attributed to perceived shortcomings in the school system, public-sector training programs and the workplace.Depending on whom you talk to, the problem of a limited supply of workers has been exacerbated by entities on both sides of the labor equation, though all parties believe they are doing their part to alleviate the problem.
A concern, if not a consensus, among business people is that good people are hard to find. They assert that many students coming out of high school don’t have the work ethic and intuitive skills needed for even the most basic entry-level positions, and there simply aren’t enough adequately trained employees to fill the higher-level positions.
An opposing view held by some school officials and training-program administrators is that employers have difficulty identifying what they’re looking for in an employee and training employees appropriately.
Some, however, know exactly what they want.
“Most of the job applications we see are from people without skills,´ said Ann Lang, human-resource representative for Symbios Logic Inc. “And soft skills are lacking as well as practical skills. I’ve found that many people still need to learn what it’s like to come to work every day, to be self-directed, and to work confidently without a sense of entitlement. These are the things we’re short on.”
Lew Wymisner, assistant director of Larimer County Employment and Training Services, echoes Lang’s concern.
“I don’t want to blame the school system, but we hear from business people that kids are not learning job skills in high school,” he said.
In response to this familiar refrain, Pat Schwindt, PaCE director at Rocky Mountain High School and co-author of the PaCE program with two other Fort Collins teachers, says the tide is turning slowly but surely.
“Anytime there’s a major change in a product, it takes time to retool,” Schwindt said. “We’re changing our whole educational philosophy and showing students their options for a career and how to make it happen.”
In particular, Schwindt is referring to the School-To-Career initiative, a federally funded program incorporated into school years K through 16 that amounts to a paradigm shift in the way teachers teach and the way students prepare to go out into the world.
The PaCE program is a component of School-To-Career. PaCE stands for Professional and Community Experience and offers students real-life work experience ranging from volunteer work to paid apprenticeships, to starting a business, for which they receive high-school credit.
“This is not an educational flavor of the month,” Schwindt stressed. “This is an educational system based on good sense, which will prepare students to work, but it will take time and continued support from parents and business to make it work.
The public school system is counting on a drastic shift in educational philosophy to help alleviate a nationwide labor shortage, but the hitch, Schwindt said, is that a lot of people are stuck with the idea that School-To-Career runs contrary to academic achievement.
“This isn’t a matter of academics vs. vocational training,” she said. “If anything, the program demonstrates to students how academic subjects like math, science and English tie into their careers. Through these programs, students will know what choices they have and what it takes to achieve them.”
After high school, the basic categories of choice for students are work, community college or a four-year college. Wymisner said that because the largest need in the region is for technically trained workers, two-year training programs or entry-level work after high school might now prove as fruitful as a four-year program, not to mention post-graduate work.
And Roland Mower, president of the Fort Collins Economic Development Corp., has said that a community college such as Front Range Community College might better serve the community by stressing vocational training programs rather than college preparatory courses that guide the student back to school rather than into the work force.
FRCC statistics indicate the college is indeed targeting more traditional-age students and providing them with a two-year core curriculum before they transfer to a four-year institution to pursue a major. Out of a fall enrollment of 10,184 in 1990, 612 students transferred to a four-year college in state, and in 1996, out of a fall enrollment of 10,997, 895 transferred.
While a substantial number of Front Range students are bachelor-degree bound, career services coordinator for the Larimer campus Sue Brooks, said Front Range is also doing a great deal to prepare students to work with vocational programs designed to meet the needs of local employers.
Brooks said she doesn’t really see any shortcomings in the college’s efforts to meet the needs of the business community.
“We’ve got the right framework with the School-To-Career initiative, and I’d say we’re on the right track,” she said. “The only thing I’d add would be a mandatory co-op or internship for all programs.”
As far as Ann Lang at Symbios Logic is concerned, schools such as Front Range can and do train quality employees, but they can’t produce them fast enough.
She suggests that if Front Range really wants to address the labor shortage, they should install an integrated circuit fabrication training facility where they can teach students how to use the equipment and to work with the chemicals in a realistic setting.
At the university level, changes are already under way to better meet the needs of employers, and Ralph McNerney, career center director at Colorado State University, says CSU is at the forefront of that change.
“We’re forming a whole new curriculum to meet the needs employers have expressed to us,” McNerney said. “Rather than offering students hundreds of course selections, we’re honing the curriculum down, and the focus is on skills employers are asking for: computer skills, communication skills including reading, listening, speaking and writing, team-building skills and problem-solving skills.”
In his position at the Larimer County Employment and Training Services, Wymisner tries to make a little money ($1.5 million a year) go a long way toward helping county residents of all ages and skill levels become employed.
Following guidelines outlined in the Job Training Partnership Act, Larimer County Employment and Training Services provides those who meet federal income guidelines with the training and counseling they need to define the skills they need to work, and acquire or refine them.
With the majority of employable people already employed, entry-level positions more often go to those who are less job ready. Those coming into the work force at the entry level generally need some sort of training or counseling to prepare them for the workplace, Wymisner said.
“We come after the fact, after school, after people realize they can’t compete,” he said. “We provide remedial support, and often we introduce people to the world of work. Some don’t know how to complete an application, write a resume, handle an interview or behave on the job.”
Larimer County Employment and Training Services works cooperatively with the state’s Job Service office, and the two centers are in the process of merging into one. LCETS is mandated to keep job seekers with the greatest barriers to employment a priority, and the organization will play a vital part in the welfare-reform process. By combining training and counseling services with job-placement services, Wymisner hopes to serve more people more efficiently.

The dearth of employees qualified to meet the region’s labor needs has, in part, been attributed to perceived shortcomings in the school system, public-sector training programs and the workplace.Depending on whom you talk to, the problem of a limited supply of workers has been exacerbated by entities on both sides of the labor equation, though all parties believe they are doing their part to alleviate the problem.
A concern, if not a consensus, among business people is that good people are hard to find. They assert that many students coming out of high school don’t have the work ethic and…

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