Wichita Creates Ready Workforce for Top Industries

Schools, colleges and universities in the Wichita area are teaming up with industries to train employees and build a formidable workforce for the future.

Kevin Litwin
On Tuesday, December 24, 2013 - 06:00

From manufacturing firms to small businesses, employers across the U.S. are struggling to find qualified employees who have the education, training and skills they need to succeed in the workplace.

Fortunately, schools, colleges and universities in the Wichita area are already taking steps to meet this need by teaming up with industries to provide additional training for employees, while also developing programs to build a formidable workforce for the future.

One of those initiatives is Achieve Kansas, a cooperative program between nearly two dozen area colleges designed to increase the number of workers with degrees and other credentials over the next year.

Achieve Kansas encourages companies to help employees complete their post-secondary studies.

“We explain the economic impact that degreed persons can have on the region and on their own businesses,” says Renee Anderson, manager of community development for the Wichita Metro Chamber of Commerce. “It’s a customized approach; employers can subsidize tuition, books and fees, offer flex time or permit on-site classes – whatever works for them.”

Firms Help Train Workforce

Partnering with industries to provide students with top-notch training for jobs in the area has long been part of the educational approach at Wichita State University (WSU). WSU operates the largest cooperative education program in Kansas, placing students from every department in careers across the city through its Office of Cooperative Education and Work-Based Learning.

WSU is also incorporating products and knowledge from NetApp Inc., a computer storage and data management firm with a local campus, into its management information systems classes. Learning labs sponsored by the company give students real-world experience, and employees even contribute to on-campus instruction.

WSU's National Institute for Aviation Research employs 150 engineering students who work daily with Spirit AeroSystems, Bombardier Learjet, Beeachcraft and other local aviation clients in research and development labs that specialize in everything from composites and advanced materials to computer-aided design and manufacturing.

Headquartered in Wichita, High Touch Technologies is working with Butler Community College to provide advanced tech training for students at the school's Center for Technology and Advancement. The college contributes instructors and curriculum, while High Touch provides instruction space, hardware software and support for the center, which offers full-day, noncredit courses in popular business software.

“The program is intended to help participants become better suited for employment opportunities,” says Dr. Roberto Rodriguez, dean of Butler’s division of career and technical education and its advanced technology center.

Students now have the opportunity to earn technical certificates and associate degrees in robotics, thanks to a joint program administered by NIAR, the Midwest Robotics Initiative Council and Wichita Area Technical College. This training is valuable because skills in robotic systems and applications apply to many industrial settings, academic leaders say.

WATC also leads the National Aviation Consortium – a network of community colleges across five states that is working to develop a nationally standardized curriculum that will prepare graduates to work at any aviation or aerospace company.

Technology, Dual-Enrollment Programs

High-tech education in Wichita isn’t just limited to manufacturing. A partnership between MindFire Academy and Bethany College supplements the liberal arts education media arts students receive with a thorough grounding in 3D computer animation, digital filmmaking, video game design and audio recording arts. The satellite campus includes the region’s only fully functional motion-capture stage.

Even as early as high school, students in Wichita are encouraged to get a head start on sharpening their tech skills. Senate Bill 155 provides high-school students with free tuition for select courses at technical and community colleges.

“It lets them explore career opportunities without making a long-term commitment,” says Butler College’s Rodriguez.

These dual-enrollment programs are a big reason behind WATC's recent 25-percent jump in enrollment, according to Joe Ontjes, director of marketing and student services.

Taking its commitment to help students succeed in the workplace even further, WATC also hosts career fairs, issues weekly notices of job openings and provides extensive counseling and guidance services for students. Those efforts are already paying off – WATC boasts a 97-percent success rate at placing students in jobs.


Kevin Litwin is the author of Crazy Lucky Dead and a freelance feature writer with a career spanning more than 20 years.