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When it comes to training, traditional distinctions blurring

More than ever, today’s working professionals are not sitting still but are upgrading their skill sets to boost current careers and future job possibilities. There are many opportunities for improvement for what might be called white collar workforce training.

However, in a rapidly-changing work environment, even the terms blue collar and white collar training may be obsolete as traditional distinctions blur.

“Jobs on assembly lines are more white collar now as technology advances,” said Mary Allen of the Central Mississippi Planning and Development District in Jackson. “We oversee some federally funded programs with WIN Job Centers, and part of the funds are to upgrade training if employers need to introduce new technology or new skills. The inquiries are geared more toward technology.”

Key player

Tom Wagner, president of Wagner Consulting Group of Madison, says the core issue is that working professionals must upgrade their skills just to maintain their value to employers or clients.

“That’s because of the inexorable advance of technology that either eliminates or commoditizes more routine job tasks every day,” he said. “For example, well-trained Indian professionals fluent in English are now handling legal, accounting and engineering work at a fraction of the cost of American workers. Professionals should regularly asses the value proposition, from the client’s perspective, of their services.”

But the good news is that learning new skills makes jobs more enjoyable because higher-value work is less routine and boring.

“The first step in keeping skills up to date is to prioritize the areas for improvement. Then search for appropriate training sources, such as books, audio and video courses (CD, DVD, online), public seminars, industry/association resources, community colleges, private coaches and mentors.”

Wagner advises reviewing business publication best seller lists and online sources (such as www.ceoread.com) for general interest business books.

Anticipating future needs

Community colleges are focused like a laser beam to fill the need of upgrading skills, says Dr. Eric Clark, executive director of the Mississippi State Board for Community and Junior Colleges.

“Any worker or employer just needs to call a local community college’s workforce development center to learn about training opportunities available in their area,” he said. “We work to anticipate future job trends and we train for state-of-the-art technology, such as those needed in the new Toyota plant.”

Wayne Kuntz fields such calls as director of workforce development for Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College (MGCCC). “More companies are trying to make their employees more efficient and allow them opportunities to improve and advance,” he said. “We get a lot of requests for courses in management, conflict resolution and interpersonal skills — skills to make the work place run smoother.”

He believes employers realize they are better served to upgrade supervisory and management skills of existing employees, making them more effective.

With the latest technology as the driving force, training is a growing trend in the state.

“People are definitely more and more interested in keeping up with technology,” Kuntz said. “There’s a big emphasis on mobile technology; helping employees be more productive on their Blackberry devices. Tasks don’t have to be done at a desk anymore.”

Clark says community colleges are seeing increased calls for training in the healthcare field. “To assist in filling the state’s nursing shortage, we are encouraging certified nursing assistants to become licensed practical nurses and eventually registered nurses,” he said.

Other popular training programs include industrial maintenance and production, quality control management, supervisory and leadership training and safety training to meet federal standards.

At MGCCC, vice president Anna Faye Kelley-Winders sees a growing trend to customize courses for organizations to complement other training programs. “Our continuing education schedule reflects a lot of individual preferences too,” she said. “Our goal is to provide specific programs along with our regular class schedule that is open to the public.”

Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynn Lofton at llofton656@aol.com.


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