A hidden gem of Iowa’s community colleges is quietly helping to shape and strengthen the workforce across the state. Through partnerships with various employers, community colleges have been providing innovative customized training to help upskill workers through tailored technical and professional learning opportunities.

Aptly named, customized training are courses that have been individualized to meet the needs of a business and its staff. They can cover anything from technical skills, such as industrial maintenance, line production, health care and more, to language and leadership. Through customized training, employers can help recruit, retain and promote valuable workers by offering upskill opportunities.

“Our 15 community colleges really make customized training an easy option for businesses who need additional training for their employees,” said Paula Nissen, administrative consultant for the Iowa Department of Education. “There is so much flexibility that customized training can provide. Community colleges work with employers to set up goals, the length of the program and even what location is most convenient for staff participation.”

At the Iowa Valley Community College District, for instance, they have taken the idea of customizing training for location and schedule convenience to the max. One partnership with JBS, a local food production company, has found that training best occurs from 8 p.m. to midnight.

Neysa Hartzler, Iowa Valley
Neysa Hartzler, Iowa Valley

“This schedule allows for the instructor covering the industrial maintenance training to meet with more workers, including those on second and third shifts,” said Neysa Hartzler, business outreach coordinator for Iowa Valley. “The JBS workers can complete the training around their shifts at our campus. It helps ensure that they can attend the training without taking personal time yet still complete their job duties.”

This particular industrial maintenance training provides a self-paced module for the employees to complete, and most workers finish the training within nine months. It covers many technical areas, including pneumatics, hydraulics, equipment and more and offers a hybrid of online learning and hands-on work with an instructor. And from early results, the customized training has proven to be a welcomed opportunity for both staff and employers.

Jacque Goodman, Iowa Valley
Jacque Goodman, Iowa Valley

“Our staff builds relationships with employers and helps them come up with the right plan of action that works for everyone,” said Jacque Goodman, vice president for Business and Outreach at Iowa Valley. “At JBS, the employer gets highly trained employees while staff often get opportunities for pay increases due to customized training.”

The team at Iowa Valley has worked within their four-county region to provide customized training to various businesses and industries, such as manufacturing, communications, energy, agriculture, electrical and more. Training topics have also varied greatly from computer-based applications to English as a second language to safety.

Val Ruff, Iowa Valley
Val Ruff, Iowa Valley

“We have a lot of resources to help businesses,” said Val Ruff, business outreach coordinator for Iowa Valley. “We can develop training for both entry-level skills, like blueprint reading or strengthening soft skills, as well as more advanced technical or management skills.”

Most customized training is funded through two programs known as the Industrial New Jobs Training Program (260E) and Iowa Jobs Training (260 F). Businesses can also pay for customized training directly with community colleges, and other opportunities for financial support may be available.

“We can often figure something out for businesses,” Goodman said. “We have a variety of funding sources that businesses may be eligible for assistance with customized training.”

Similar to Iowa Valley, Southwestern Community College (SWCC) works with local businesses in their eight-county territory to find the right fit for training and support.

Kim Oaks, SWCC
Kim Oaks, SWCC 

“We’ve worked with seven companies in various fields during the past year and trained 216 employees, and we hope to see even more,” said Kim Oaks, director of Continuing Education and Business Trainings at SWCC. “We’re really an untapped resource, not just for skilled technical training but also professional and leadership training. We can provide a personalized experience.”

SWCC’s recent customized training included instruction on welding, CPR and first aid, electrical, leadership, English and Spanish language skills and more. SWCC’s instructors have also provided late-night training sessions to fit into shifts and schedules and have worked with businesses on the best ways to provide the training content. The length of the training programs has varied greatly depending on the needs of the business, and SWCC has seen training run from as little as a few hours to up to eight weeks.

“We definitely work to fit the company’s needs and ensure that it is a valuable use of the participants’ time,” Oaks said. “We have talented trainers who understand that the program must be interactive and involve the businesses in the learning process. Flexibility is the key to success for customized training.”

SWCC’s approach to customized training has also included promotional activities. They have developed a quarterly newsletter for businesses that provides details and testimonials on recent customized training in their region. Additionally, SWCC has prioritized community outreach, which has included networking with area chamber organizations like the Lions Club and Rotary Club.

“It’s important to connect with the community to help spread the word of what we can help with,” Oaks said. “Our team is from here and surrounding communities, so we have a good understanding of what the current business and market needs are and what connections we need to make.”

As a hub for education, training and transformation, Iowa’s community colleges are well-known for equipping the workforce with high-quality skills. Currently, customized training is a lesser-known resource of community colleges but is a valuable opportunity for any business, and college officials encourage employers to take a look at what this type of tailored instruction can provide.

“Your business needs may not be the same as someone else’s,” Oaks said. “Customized training can provide you with the upskill opportunities you need for your specific employees. It can be an important part of your business plan.”

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