Economic developers know that the ability to provide access to a highly-skilled workforce can be critical to attracting and retaining top businesses. That's why Gillette College works with business leaders to stay abreast of workforce needs and maintain a steady flow of talent to the region's high-growth industries.
As part of the Northern Wyoming Community College District, Gillette College has long played a vital role in the region's workforce development efforts. The college, which has campuses in Sheridan and Buffalo as well as Gillette, offers more than 30 certificate and degree programs, from art and agriculture science to nursing and welding. Students are able to pursue an associate of art, associate of science or associate of applied science degree, or apply coursework toward a four-year degree. Gillette College also offers dual- and concurrent-enrollment programs for area high school students.
"Wyoming is unique in the sense that we are the only state in the nation that has just one four-year, state-funded university, so there's a unique opportunity for our students who are getting an associate degree to have pathways to a four-year degree at the university," says Carole Shafer, director for workforce and community education for Gillette College.
Customized Workforce Training
The Workforce and Community Education department works with businesses to customize training and continuing education programs for their employees.
"We do customized training, on-demand training and what we call instant response," Shafer says. "If a company calls up and says, 'We're looking to have these people trained in this area. What can you do for us?,' we immediately put together a program if we don't already have it. If we do have it, then we're ready to respond instantly to their needs."
"I also spend quite a bit of time out in the community, on the mine sites, on the job sites, working with folks and the advisory committees to make sure we're offering pathways for employees that are meeting the short-term goals of getting them in and trained, but then also giving them a foundation to pursue long-term goals such as a degree."
The Workforce and Community Education department also works directly with local and regional businesses to ensure students are trained in the skills local industries need.
"We have an advisory board for the institution and for each program that's made up of business leaders and professionals within the community and the industry. The advisory board reports back to our College Board of Trustees, and all our curriculum, our equipment, our labs and all of our facilities are reviewed, changed and modified based on the suggestions of that group," Shafer says.
Joy Global Inc., an underground mining equipment manufacturer with a plant in Gillette, donated more than $30,000 to the college to help fund the creation of a new machine tool program. Due in part to expanding companies like Joy Global, the college has seen an uptick in enrollment in programs such as machine tool, mining, electrical, welding and diesel technologies.
The college's business program has also experienced rapid growth, and in 2014, hired a new director of business education.
"Any time there is even a hint of an economic slowdown, people tend to think, 'What can I do now? What can I do next?,'" says Brendan Diamond, assistant media relations manager for the Northern Wyoming Community College District. "One of the big things we've seen for the last several years has been the growth in entrepreneurship, so that's one of the focuses that we have in our business education program."
In addition to their program of study, students can take professional development courses during which they learn how to construct a resume, learn about communication and time management, and hone job interview skills, and the college partners with businesses to offer students internships and hands-on instruction.
"We actually have an internship coordinator here on our campus through our Career Center, and part of her role is making sure there are internship opportunities for students in all areas, not only in our technical areas, but also our business students, our art students and any other students on campus who are interested in that hands-on experience," Shafer says.
The college also broke ground on an $18.6 million student education and activity complex, called the Pronghorn Center. The 52,000-square-foot facility will house a fitness center, a 1,800-seat athletic venue with a hardwood court, a nursing simulation lab, classroom space and a center for student veterans.