Swanger: Workforce training fixing skilled labor shortage

An audience of educators, business people and government listen Tuesday as area community colleges sign a formal collaboration for job skills training to overcome a labor shortage. (The Leader-Herald/Eric Retzlaff)

TROY — Dusty Swanger, president of Fulton-Montgomery Community College in Johnstown, believes in workforce training because he’s seen it succeed.

Swanger told a gathering of five Capital Region community college presidents and business leaders that the current shortage of skilled labor is fixable because he saw it happen in Monroe County.

He met Tuesday at Hudson Valley Community College with the presidents to sign a compact of collaboration to train up workers in a growing economy.

As a former dean at Monroe County Community College in Rochester, Swanger said job training programs in machine tooling were once withering for lack of applicants until a concerted effort was made to market and recruit students at the college and the local Board of Cooperative Educational Services.

The college had only 50 students in that program but managed to increase it to 300.

“It changed the whole region,” he said.

Along with Swanger, the presidents of HVCC, Schenectady County Community College, Adirondack Community College and Columbia-Greene Community College signed an agreement to work together with business, economic development agencies and government to design training programs that are affordable, accessible and flexible to meet the needs of businesses and students. Each president spoke in support of joint effort-called the Capital Community College Career Coalition and credited Swanger for spearheading the program.

Swanger said the agreement of intent must be followed up with practical, actionable solutions when the group meets again on Nov. 2.

He said marketing efforts are needed to dispel the view that “if you want a good job, you have to leave the area,” an idea born in part from the manufacturing downturn of the 1970s.

“The challenge is too big for any one college to do it alone,” said Johanna Duncan-Portier, senior vice chancellor for Community Colleges and the Education Pipeline for the State University of New York. “I think the Capital Region is going to lead the way.”

Andrew Kennedy, president and CEO of the Center for Economic Growth in Albany, said private business employment is at its highest level in 18 years in the Capital Region, exceeding the number of public employees.

“This is a good problem to have, but we’re not reaching our potential,” he said.

Jake Kolar, senior control engineer at Beech-Nut, Amsterdam, and Timothy Becket, chief operating officer of Townsend Leather Company, Johnstown, were representing area business at the event.

Both businesses already have relationships with community colleges for training present and future employees. Like most contemporary manufacturers, they have to overcome the old-fashioned stereotype of manufacturing from decades past. Current manufacturing is more high tech and requires training that a business-college has begun providing-both at the worksites and the colleges. “It’s a great start,” said Becket. “I’m glad it’s happening.”

By Josh Bovee

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