Working Class to World Class: From Pennsylvania to Australia-Creative Approaches to Workforce Training

By Young, Gerald | Public Management, March 2008 | Go to article overview

Working Class to World Class: From Pennsylvania to Australia-Creative Approaches to Workforce Training


Young, Gerald, Public Management


Finding skilled employees is an issue that affects all industry and, by extension, all the local governments around the world that depend on that industry for their economic strength. Although such training is often left to community colleges, many individuals and local governments have taken the lead in serving their working-class communities, and they have fostered world-class institutions with enviable programs and results.

LESSONS FROM PITTSBURGH

Bill Strickland presented an effective and moving keynote address at ICMA's annual conference in Pittsburgh in 2007. In it, he told the personal story of his efforts as CEO of the Manchester Craftsmen's Guild and Bidwell Training Center to provide career training for poor inner-city youth.

The approach he's taken has been to "retrain those who no one else wants," he said, but to do so in a way that prepares them for college and careers, not low-wage employment. Whether working with welfare recipients, teenage mothers, or former steel workers, he has committed to providing them with high-quality facilities and training.

As an example, he highlighted the fact that his facility follows a Frank Lloyd Wright style of design, has fresh flowers and natural light throughout, and provides classrooms that would be the envy of any private institution. Culinary students not only have the best in equipment on which to train; they also learn to create gourmet meals.

This philosophy has led to a high rate of employment in both the restaurant and the food service industries and also with local companies such as the H. J. Heinz Company. A side benefit is that the students at the center also enjoy high-quality lunches rather than traditional vending machine and cafeteria fare.

"People are assets. How you treat them determines their behavior," said Strickland. And, he continued, when they feel better about their surroundings and your expectations of them, they also perform better.

The furniture in the center is also a reflection of that attitude. Rather than provide a mix of surplus desks and furniture nobody else wants, Strickland worked with skilled artisans to train students in art, woodworking, and furniture design, with the results on display throughout the center. And as the students have learned, they've also gained confidence and recognition through gallery showings of their works.

Although art plays a central role in Strickland's vision, his students' achievements are not limited to that field. Ninety-two percent go on to earn college degrees. And as the program's success has grown, hospitals, pharmaceutical companies, and other businesses have approached Strickland to set up new training curricula to meet their needs for a highly skilled workforce.

LIFELONG LEARNING IN HUME

That same partnership approach between business and education is reflected in a program sponsored by Hume City Council, Victoria, Australia (Domenic Isola, chief executive officer).

The challenge in Hume involved low literacy levels, high dropout rates, high unemployment, and low representation of local people in the many jobs offered within the city. Employers in manufacturing, transportation, and other sectors reported they wanted to employ local residents, but the skills gap was just too great.

Over the years, many well-intentioned programs attempted to address social and economic conditions in Hume. Often this was done in isolation from others providing similar services, and programs operated from substandard facilities that stated clearly to the community that participants were "disadvantaged." As the Manchester Bidwell programs had done in Pittsburgh, Hume set out to change that.

Thus began the concept of the Hume Global Learning Village and the Hume Global Learning Centre, along with the desire to bring to the community one of the most fundamental services supporting democracy and social justice--a public library. …

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