BIZTIPS - April 9, 2006

Biz Tips: Europe Offers Lessons on Workforce Training
Sunday,April 9, 2006
By Art Hill

If you’re a regular reader of this column, you know that we had an invitation to conduct a workshop in Croatia on workforce development as part of an outreach program sponsored by USAID. Two weeks ago this column was e-mailed from Zagreb, and this week we’re home, so all went well.

Croatia is scheduled for admission into the European Union in 2009, so their dynamic economy was no surprise. Our workshop drew support from many business owners, and we’re following up with them and with their elected officials.

But as always, we learned more than we taught. Here’s an example. One of the opportunities we developed was an agreement between Blue Mountain Community College and Politehnika Pula, Croatia’s post-secondary technical college. It’s a cross between an engineering / business university (think Purdue, Rensselaer) and a college like the Oregon Institute of Technology in Klamath Falls.

Under the agreement, BMCC will work with Politehnika Pula to offer specific courses to their students in distance learning format. So we are swapping program information, and will make recommendations based on the needs of their students for English language courses.

Now here’s the interesting part. Their program is turning out about 100 graduates a year in electronics, economics, engineering, and manufacturing. The courses are very practical. The students will be top technicians and managers in large and small companies, not researchers or policy analysts. In other words, they will be the foundation of a strong, technical and manufacturing economy.

So where’s the lesson for us? With the exception of a few community college and university programs, we are not training the same core workforce of skilled technical and manufacturing workers as our European counterparts. We watch our manufacturing jobs decline year after year and blame cheap overseas labor. But how can we keep or grow high value manufacturing jobs if we’re not educating a broad segment of our workforce for them? Easy to see…not so easy to fix.

Companies in our region have achieved world class manufacturing excellence – Behlen Country in Baker City is one. But where can a young person go to learn advanced manufacturing techniques? Good question. They almost have to go to work for a company like Behlen, then train on the job.

American companies may have the world’s best access to capital and technology, but until we have a well educated and trained workforce, we’ll be missing the third leg of the stool. And until we learn some lessons in technical education for the real world from our colleagues in Europe, we will continue to export jobs and economic opportunity.

Content © 2006 East Oregonian