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Flexibility helps Holmes CC broaden center’s mission

ridgeland — While Holmes Community College-Ridgeland’s D.P. “Pat” McGowan Workforce Training Center is attractive with its round lobby topped by a glass cupola and clean lines, it is the facility’s flexibility that makes it unique. This flexible design can be seen from the types of training it offers all the way down to its furnishings.

“Our goal is to be the premier workforce training center in the Southeast,” said Mike Blankenship, workforce development coordinator on the college’s Ridgeland campus. “We won’t get there by dictating the needs of local businesses. We have to listen to what they need, and let those needs dictate what we offer here. We’re not cookie-cutter.”

Willing to adapt

The D.P. “Pat” McGowan Workforce Training Center encompasses more than 51,000 square feet, offering 18 classrooms, 10 career tech classrooms, three shops, a conference room and a multi-media room. The center provides a wide variety of training. On the industrial/manufacturing side alone, it offers instruction in motor controls, hydraulics and pneumatics, mechanical drive systems and machine shop, just to name a few.

Some of the space is specialized. For instance, the welding shop incorporates a ventilation system, which keeps the facility smoke-free.

Perhaps the most illustrative of the center’s work is space for a specific automotive component manufacturer. Visteon manufactures the dashboards for the Nissan North America automobile manufacturing plant in Canton. Training workers at the plant on the assembly line proved difficult. So, a room at the center is designed as a small mock-up of the plant floor, sans assembly line. Workers can learn their jobs without slowing down production or feeling the stress of having to learn “on the fly.”

However, the facility’s entire design is focused on flexibility, allowing space to be configured to meet the changing needs of industry and business. The center is also adaptable when it comes to trainers. If Holmes Community College does not have a trainer on campus for a class, it will hire a vendor, or allow the contracting company to provide one of its own to lead the instruction and reimburse the company for the cost.

Even the center’s focus has shown great flexibility. Originally, the concentration was on the industrial/manufacturing side. But more and more service sector businesses began asking for training courses. Now, the center provides a variety of professional training programs such as leadership enhancement and customer service.

Successful formula

The ability to accommodate practically any training need has proven attractive and popular with local business and industry. This is especially satisfying for Blankenship and his team as the center’s construction was funded primarily by a Madison County bond issue. The local business community showed its support before the center was even completed, and the center’s staff takes pride in the fact that the community has embraced the center’s offerings.

The numbers back up just how popular the center’s training has become. The year before the center was completed, Holmes Community College-Ridgeland’s workforce training was provided in its 18,000-square-foot technology building. Approximately 7,200 people received training there that year.

And the numbers do not include those who took advantage of the center’s conference room or highly popular multi-media room. Able to hold up to 150 people, the multi-media room is also flexible, allowing for theatre- or banquet-style configuration. The room offers state-of-the-art audio-visual amenities such as document camera, 12-foot dropdown screen, computer, DVD and more.

More participants are expected. The center’s staff is anticipating perhaps as many as 20,000 people trained this year.

One reason for the expected up-tick in participants is the center’s expanding outreach program. The center’s staff currently is made up of Blankenship, Angela Cain and Bronwyn Martin. Martin is the newest member of the team, and is charged with external promotion through attending tradeshows and chamber of commerce events and like efforts to get the word out about the center’s offerings and to listen to what businesses and industries need in terms of training.

“We consider ourselves as a resource, a partner with the companies we serve,” Blankenship said. “So far, the center has exceeded our expectations, and we look forward to serving even more companies in the future.”

Contact MBJ staff writer Wally Northway at northway@msbusiness.com.


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