Gazette opinion: Investing $25M in Montana’s future workforce

2013-09-23T00:00:00Z Gazette opinion: Investing $25M in Montana’s future workforce The Billings Gazette
September 23, 2013 12:00 am

What happens when 13 colleges and 57 businesses collaborate statewide to meet student and employer needs for job training?

Montana will find out over the next four years as a consortium of two-year colleges uses a $25 million federal grant to get Montanans ready for careers in energy and advanced manufacturing fields.

The grant includes support for development of basic skills needed to succeed in college courses, with particular emphasis on math, according to John Cech, deputy commissioner of higher education for two-year colleges.

Students will be earning “stackable” credits as they complete certification in these workforce programs, Cech said. That means a student who earns one level of certification will get credit for that work if she wants to earn a higher certification or work toward an associate degree or even a bachelor’s degree.

The 57 businesses that have committed to working with the colleges to develop training include some of the biggest firms operating in Montana, such as NorthWestern Energy, Continental Resources and Halliburton, Cech said.

“This is the largest single grant ever in the history of two-year colleges in Montana,” Cech said.

The colleges immediately started moving forward. The day after the grant award was announced, Cech and leaders of all 13 consortium colleges were meeting in Butte. They convened at the close of the Board of Regents meeting, which had followed the two-day Montana Economic Summit organized by U.S. Sen. Max Baucus. Nearly 4,000 people attended that event, including CEOs of dozens of the nation’s largest and fasted growing companies. The summit focused on jobs for Montana.

Baucus was instrumental in writing legislation that created the Trade Adjustment Assistance Community College and Career Training program that provided the Montana grant.

“The energy boom in Eastern Montana is rapidly creating new job opportunities across our state, and this grant will make sure Montana workers have the skills and training they need to land those high-paying jobs,” Baucus said.

“Montanans must be trained with the skills to compete in the 21st Century workforce,” said Gov. Steve Bullock, whose first two-year state budget includes a college tuition freeze.

The Montana Department of Labor and Industry is a partner in the grant project. Each participating college will hire “workforce navigators” who will work with Job Service, employers and students to help guide them to training and other services needed to obtain jobs.

The project has a goal of training more than 9,000 Montanans. Its success will be measured by how many get jobs.

Congratulations to college leaders and all the partners in this major grant. Thanks to Baucus and Bullock for their support of two-year colleges. We look forward to seeing this investment create new career pathways for Montanans to fill high-paying jobs in Montana.

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