Norwalk Community College: Linking With Employers to Address Job Shortages

Madeline K. Barillo
Member Spotlight

Today’s employers know that skilled workers don’t grow on trees. Sometimes, you have to grow your own talent.

With rapid advances in technology, job titles like Smartphone Application Developer and Patient Care Technician simply didn’t exist a decade ago, so qualified candidates are few.

Employers scrambling to find workers with the right stuff often turn to Norwalk Community College (NCC) in Norwalk, Connecticut. That’s because NCC tracks industry trends and readily deploys associate degree and certificate programs to produce workers who can hit the ground running.

Employers serve on the college’s academic advisory boards and inform curriculum development and program outcomes, such as which courses should be requirements and which clinical rotations students should experience. “By linking directly with employers, NCC identifies workforce shortages, now and down the road, and tailors solutions,” said NCC President David L. Levinson.

According to the 2013 McKinsey and Company report Breaking the U.S. Growth Impasse, “Business leaders can give the U.S. economy a shot in the arm by pursuing innovative public/private partnerships and developing human capital through education and workforce training.”

NCC leads dozens of collaborative relationships that position students for success and boost the economy. For example, the college’s growing veterinary partnership has been good for students, vets, and pets. Program coordinator and assistant professor Anne C. Hermans stated:

NCC’s Veterinary Technology program was established in response to an overwhelming demand for trained and credentialed Veterinary Technicians from area practices of all different sizes and types—small and large animals, exotics, specialty practice, general practice, and emergency and referral practice.

The Vet Tech degree program was launched in fall 2015. Fifty percent of its first- and second-year students are already working in the field as techs-in-training. Some work with dogs and cats, others in large animal practices with cows and horses. According to Hermans, virtually all the students who graduated with the first class in May 2017 have been “extensively recruited” and received jobs offers prior to graduation.

NCC has partnerships with many healthcare employers and nonprofit agencies, noted Kathleen Fries, NCC’s Director of Nursing and Allied Health and a Certified Nurse Educator. These employers provide valuable counsel on worker shortages and career pathways.

Last June, NCC launched a series of homecare training programs for immigrants in collaboration with Building One Community. These programs prepare immigrants to provide home care for the elderly. Building One offers English language instruction for participants and NCC offers certificate programs in First Aid/CPR, Homemaker Companion, and Home Health Aide. The program’s first graduates will be hired quickly because many are native Spanish or Creole speakers and reflect the cultural makeup of the community, said Fries.

The home care industry is one of the fastest-growing sectors of the American economy. “Allied health workers are all high-need positions at the associate or certificate level because of the aging population,” Fries said. “People are living longer, people are staying in their homes longer, and people don’t have extended families nearby to do these jobs.”

NCC’s associate degree program in Medical Office Management has a strong relationship with Stamford Health Medical Group, which hires graduates to manage the clinical and administrative aspects of running a medical practice.

A unique partnership with Orthopaedic and Neurosurgery Specialists (ONS) in Greenwich, Connecticut, enables students in the Physical Therapist Assistant degree program to observe surgeons dissecting human cadavers. ONS surgeons offer instruction in musculoskeletal, nervous, and vascular systems using lecture and dissection.

NCC is working with IBM to prime the talent pipeline even earlier than in college. In 2014, NCC established the Norwalk Early College Academy (NECA) with IBM and Norwalk Public Schools. This Pathways to Technology program prepares students in grades 9-12 for entry-level IT jobs and offers ongoing mentoring relationships with IBM executives. Students can earn a high school diploma and no-cost NCC associate degree in STEM fields within six years.

“NECA is a great example of NCC meeting industry needs,” said Tom Duffy, chairman of the NCC Computer Science department. “IBM provided a skills assessment that identified jobs going unfilled. We then developed two A.A.S. degrees intended to teach those skills: Mobile Programming and Software Engineering.” According to Duffy, graduates will be able to “work anywhere,” as these skills are needed by virtually every company.

Following the lean years of the recession, there is increased demand for workers in the culinary arts and hospitality management field. People are once again spending money on dining out and traveling. “The job market is robust for the hospitality industry in the Stamford/Bridgeport labor market,” said Thomas Failla, Director of Hospitality Management and Culinary Arts. “Positions have increased from 26,000 to over 42,000 in the industry, which includes hotels, restaurants, and foodservice operations.”

Employers from restaurants, country clubs, catering establishments, and hotels serve on NCC’s Advisory Board and send their own employees to the college for additional training. “Thirty-five to 40 percent of our students are adults who either work in the industry or are re-skilling in the industry,” he noted.

Employer partnerships are critical to filling vacant jobs. They also raise awareness of career pathways and the benefits of continued education. Some NCC students enter the health care field as a medical assistant or phlebotomist, and later take their interest to the next level by becoming a registered nurse.

It’s never too early for students to start thinking about career prospects, said Kiran Somaya, Director of the NCC Center for Career Development. She noted that employers today are interested in grooming students and would rather connect with them as early as the first semester than wait till after graduation.

Throughout the year, employers are invited to campus to help students write resumes and cover letters, do mock interviews, and prepare elevator speeches. Students also get advice on salaries commanded by different majors and the importance of doing volunteer service or an internship.

“The idea is to get students to meet with employers not in a setting where they are nervous and asking for a job, but to understand how they should prepare for a career and what jobs are out there,” Somaya said. “Employers today want to see the whole student and groom them. They’re not just interested in the academic part.”

To contact NCC about developing an employer partnership, or for more information about workforce training, contact Kristina Testa-Buzzee, Interim Associate Dean of Extended Studies and Workforce Training.

Madeline Barillo is the Marketing and Public Relations Director at Norwalk Community College in Norwalk, Connecticut.

Opinions expressed in Member Spotlight are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect those of the League for Innovation in the Community College.