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January 2004
Beyond the Books

     In today’s competitive, global marketplace, you are constantly challenged to stay on top of your game. You recognize that professional development and workforce training is key to attracting and retaining the best employees, and ultimately, to the success of your organization. You acknowledge that in order to grow professionally, you must keep up with technology and modern business practices. With shrinking budgets and the growing challenge to do more with less, how do you make it happen?


     Mary Vickers-Koch, the newly appointed dean of Central Piedmont Community College’s (CPCC) Corporate and Continuing Education (CCE) West Campus/Business & Industry Training Services, has the solution. “Businesses partner with CPCC’s Corporate and Continuing Education program to assess and achieve their workforce and personal development goals,” she says. Simply put, companies are getting smart about the delivery of training and development programs for their employees. And professionals are wising up to the fact that in order to excel they need to stay on the cutting edge in the corporate world by continuing to learn.

     CPCC was established in 1963 and since that time has offered countless continuing education courses. In the early days, music, travel and fitness were core classes in adult continuing ed. Along with the arrival of CPCC president Dr. Tony Zeiss in 1992, came a new vision. His mission to establish CPCC as a leader in workforce development is gaining new ground each year. Today, the word “Corporate,” with a capital “C,” is a mere reflection of enrollment, while Corporate and Continuing Education programs at CPCC continue to mirror the wants and needs of the community.

     “We respond to what the market needs now. In the not-for-credit arena, we have that luxury today. We have built processes to offer customized solutions,” says Vickers-Koch. The community at large and the business sector both benefit from the college’s flexibility. CCE is not restricted by state guidelines like the accredited side of CPCC. The ability to develop new courses and even more importantly, customize programs to meet a company’s needs, are key components to the ongoing success of Corporate and Continuing Education at CPCC.


Responding to Needs

     For a business owner or human resources manager, pulling together the proper resources and tools to meet training and development needs can be a daunting task. How do you know it will be effective and how do you document the investment? Call the college.

     “We have the tools to measure skills and competencies that are critical to success as a front line leader and upper level manager,” says Jeff Sechrist, director of special projects in the area of Leadership and Professional Development. “We cross over those skills and competencies to training modules and put people through soft skill training.”

     “About half of the leadership management and professional development training that is conducted at CPCC is customized for area businesses. Assess-ment, delivery and measurement of programs are tailored for particular businesses and implemented around their schedules. We have a twenty-four/seven delivery operation – we can conduct training any time, any shift,” Sechrist adds.

     CPCC partners with national and international training organizations like Achieve Global, Franklin Covey and Six Sigma Based on needs; these modules can be further customized to fit the businesses’ specific operations.

     How do companies know what they need?

     “We work with a business to assess the best delivery options to meet their goals,” says Sechrist. That’s how Oglebay Norton Specialty Minerals in Kings Mountain, producers of mica products, embarked on training course that would impact the company greatly. In a testimonial, David Howell, quality assessment/quality control manager for the company says, “We are now well into the first year post training and the payoff is evident at all levels.”

     Oglebay Norton used the Achieve/Global training course, brought in-house for their management team. It is designed to tap the potential of an entire organization – moving people to understand a business strategy and embrace it as their own as they work to achieve business results. Customized for their industry, Oglebay Norton found the training invaluable.

     “We are utilizing skills that can be directly traced to our training. And management has developed open communication and problem-solving skills that have enabled this company to soften the blow of the current economic downturn,” says Howell.


Translation Yielding Benefits

    According to census data, North Carolina had the second fastest-growing Hispanic population in the nation between 2000 and 2002 – with 16 percent growth during that time period. The Latino boom is evident throughout the Charlotte region and businesses are trying to keep up with the increase in Spanish-speaking workers and customers.

     Charlotte Metro Credit Union is one of many businesses that had a need to help their employees communicate with their expanding Latino customer base. Options included enrolling employees in off-site Spanish classes and hiring a private firm to conduct costly in-house training. The credit union found just what they wanted when they learned of the Language and Culture options at CCE.

     Command Spanish, a nationally recognized language training program, was implemented by the language experts at CPCC. Charlotte Metro Credit Union’s program was designed to help employees of the credit union ask a series of questions to control the course of conversation with Spanish-speaking customers.

     “This program was streamlined to meet our needs – phrase by phrase,” says Ann Robbins, vice president of human resources and training. “On-site training helped us put more employees through the seven week course than if we were to send people off-site. It was also very important for us not to interrupt our workday,” she adds.

     “By teaching phrases that they need to know, in this case how to open an account or make a deposit, the language is designed to solicit a yes or no response – not to get into two-way dialogue that requires two-way fluency,” explains Bert Pike, coordinator of language and culture. “They are taught a series of questions to control the course of the conversation.”

     Today, 100 percent of the tellers at Charlotte Metro Credit Union have completed the Command Spanish program and Robbins feels they have found a good partner in CPCC.

     “We share a similar philosophy in serving the community,” Robbins says. Charlotte Metro Credit Union plans to continue their relationship with CPCC. In early spring the credit union will be participating in a CPCC Personal Interests workshop for businesses and individuals, “A Challenge to Balance.” The course helps to create work/life balance for employees. “We believe employees who have better balance in their lives will become better employees overall and we are willing to invest in that,” adds Robbins.

     While it’s a challenge for some companies to communicate with customers, others find effective communication with their employees to be a barrier in successfully developing a workforce. Charlotte Coliseum and Convention Center’s Food Service area needed help for their supervisory staff in communicating with Spanish-speaking employees. In a customized course using Command Spanish, management was provided  with training that ultimately improved the morale of the workforce.

     “They truly appreciate the effort we are making and it makes all of our jobs easier,” says Bob Puhl, Coliseum catering manager/special operations coordinator for the Charlotte Convention Center. “They made a focused effort to communicate, with a tremendous payoff,” says Pike. “We are proud to be a part of that.”


Computer Savvy

     Keeping in step with computer advances can chew away a budget in bits and bytes. While small businesses are directed toward open enrollment courses, larger companies like Lucent Technologies find that CCE’s on-site, customized training is a smart fit. Equipped with a grant from the Alliance for Employee Growth and Development, Lucent had the green light to hire a computer training company to benefit their staff.

     “I feel that we should support community resources first, so I contracted with CPCC,” says Kim Crabtree, production supervisor for Lucent Technology. “Then after they did such a great job, I say why go anywhere else?”

     That was the start of an ongoing relationship that has also included involvement in other areas of Corporate and Continuing Education. CCE’s New and Expanding Industries area has helped Lucent receive a grant from the state to develop a new hire screening process that is being used today.


The Student Body

     Of course, you don’t have to wait for your company to offer professional development. For those seeking to improve management or leadership skills, or simply to brush up on their computer skills, CPCC offers a host of options. Twenty-seven thousand people annually take advantage of open enrollment classes to enhance their resumes or change career paths.

     Many of the thousands that make up the CCE student body are seeking certification or licensing. Real estate, mortgage banking, insurance or appraisal is high on the list of hot jobs in today’s marketplace. Scheduled on evenings and weekends, courses are designed to accommodate busy schedules.

     “Mortgage banking is such a growing industry that one company sent a flyer inviting students to interview with them after they completed the course,” says Shelron Robinson, director of insurance, real estate and banking.

     While filling classrooms is not a problem, Robinson reports that finding licensed instructors is a challenge. “Our enrollment could double if we had the instructor base. We look for people who work the business everyday – who live it and breathe it,” she adds.


Breaking New Ground

     Growth is evident at CPCC’s West Campus, which itself is only two and half years old. The structure of a new joint conference and corporate training center is coming to fruition. A two-story building, with classrooms on the upper level and the Harris Conference Center on the main level, will fill a niche between hotels and the Charlotte Convention Center. The theater-style conference center, opening in January 2005, will seat 450 people and offer break-out rooms with views of a serene wooded area and reflection pool.

     “Local businesses will use this center. To develop a workforce, you often need to be off-site,” says Vickers-Koch.


Getting the Word Out

      While hiring experts is difficult, imagine the task of marketing all that Corporate and Continuing Education has to offer. Forty pages of courses and schedules, coupled with infinite options to create a program that is uniquely yours, is tough to communicate to the masses.

     “Without a doubt, our biggest challenge is marketing,” says Vickers-Koch. “There is so much depth in what we provide; it is hard for people to get their arms around it.” She credits each of her directors for their ability to carry the torch of a sales and marketing professional.

     “We all have to make contacts and get the word out about our CCE programs. We are a college competing against private companies with big advertising and marketing budgets,” she emphasizes. “We have a lot to offer business professionals in our community. We are a big part of this community  and we will continue to grow with it.”

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