Businesses seek training opportunities for employees

Monday, July 18, 2005
Jackson school teacher Roy Merideth, left, discussed a student's response to a MAP test question with Sikeston teacher Heather Barnes during the grading process at the Sikeston Career and Technology Center in this 2004 file photo.

Not long ago generations among families worked for one industry; all a young man needed was for his father to ask if there was a place at work for his son. Today a young person starting out needs to know more than his dad's boss. Companies are streamlining, modernizing and demanding technical knowledge and training. Unskilled labor has a diminishing place in the workforce.

Industries are also providing training for new hires, and on-going education to keep their employees skills at all levels up-to-date.

According to Joe Rozier of Workforce Inc., a Cape Girardeau staffing firm, industries are looking for employees willing to do more than just the job they are trained for.

"They're looking for people who have a combination of skill and will," Rozier said. "People create value when they can go in and have the willingness and capacity to be cross-trained."

Employees who can multi-task are worth more to industries who have to respond to the demands of their customers who say they will turn to foreign companies if local manufacturers can't produce, Rozier said.

The Cape Girardeau Career and Technology Center provides training for the area's 16 largest industries, said Tim Pensel, Coordinator for Workforce Development. That group of 16 industries, known as the Southeast Missouri Regional Industrial Training Group, meets monthly and works to get grants to help pay for employee training. Members of the consortium use that money plus money they budget each year to provide training at no cost to the employees. The Technical and Career Center develops the curriculum, tracks down the textbooks and coordinates the classes that usually take place after work.

"These employees will work an eight-hour-plus day and come here for technical training," Pensel said. "The industries end up with a more talented labor pool."

Costs for the training varies, Pensel said, and are based on the costs of the textbooks and materials as well as the instructors' wages. Most instructors come from industry. Businesses allocate money into their annual budget to pay for employee education. Mechanical and electronic maintenance courses can take two years, and combined with some general studies courses through Mineral Area College, can lead to an associate degree in applied science.

There is little risk of the employee taking his training to another company. Larry Ream, CEO of Buzzi-Unicem USA of Cape Girardeau, formerly Lone Star, and chairman of the consortium, says most industries see training costs as an investment that pays off for the employee and fosters loyalty to the company. Buzzi-Unicem USA does not require its employees to sign a contract committing to any length of employment in exchange for the training.

"I can only speak for my industry," Ream said. "If you do whatever you can to train your employees, they are going to stay with you. People in this area don't move around a lot."

"Companies earn the commitment, they can't demand it," Rozier said. "People stay where they want to stay, there are no 'golden handcuffs.'"

Between technical training and on-going workshops and seminars for employees at all levels, Buzzi-Unicem USA spends about $40,000 a year for training, Ream said. The company will also help pay the costs of college tuition for employees, he said, but only if it's industry-related.

Southeast Missouri Hospital will pay for employees who want to become Registered Nurses in order to ensure a steady supply of professional nurses. The hospital recoups its costs at $1.50 per hour from the nurses' paychecks while they're employed at Southeast Hospital, said nursing administrator Karen Hendrickson.

The Career and Technology Center also helps prepare people who have been out of the workforce for a while with its Workforce Readiness Credentialing Program. The two-week free workshop offers a choice of technical training from among an assortment of subjects ranging from emergency medical technician, medical insurance billing, nursing assistant, medical coding and transcriptionist, industrial electricity, industrial technical skills, computer-aided drafting, general welding, customer service and HVAC/R (heating, ventilation, air conditioning and refrigeration).

"We give them the technical skills they can include on a resume," Pensel said.

The center also teaches the value of punctuality, regular attendance, being a team player, decision making, workplace safety, developing leadership skills, telephone skills, basic computer usage, developing a resume, and job interviewing techniques.

"It's a full two weeks," Pensel said.

Rozier said many companies offer seminars in behavioral skills as part of their training package and find them valuable. Local chambers of commerce also offer their memberships workshops and seminars aimed toward motivating employees to be the best they can be. The Cape Girardeau Chamber of Commerce also involves its membership in quarterly Small Business Roundtable discussion, said executive director John Mehner, and provides training on such subjects as advertising, customer service, and hiring and firing, among other subjects.

Rick Sparks, a business specialist for the Jackson Chamber, said his organization offers morning coffee get-togethers for discussion and sometimes brings in guest speakers.

At the executive level, business employees who want to advance can more quickly earn their MBA at Southeast Missouri State University's school of business by taking classes on line. Dr., Kenneth Heischmidt, director of the MA program, said that those who meet the university's high admission standards and score high enough on the Graduate Management Aptitude Test (GMAT), can take their basic MBA courses on line and more easily earn their MBA while juggling a family and a full-time job.

"The first person enrolled on line literally just got started," Heischmidt said. "It's a person in Poplar Bluff who works full time and could not get up here. He's thankful to have it on line."

At any level of employment, there is an opportunity to learn.

"We try to reach everybody in business in town," Mehner said.

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