Training center nearly open for business

New facility at college dedicated to enhancing Carroll employees' skills

July 29, 2002|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

With its soft lighting, pale green walls and rooms filled with high-tech equipment, the new $13.3 million Robert and Phyllis Scott Performing Arts Center and Business Training Center at Carroll Community College more closely resembles corporate offices than academia.

That look is exactly what planners envisioned for the multilevel brick building, which they hope will help fill the gaps identified in a recent study that revealed deficiencies in Carroll County's labor force.

"We wanted a professional atmosphere, a place where the business community can come for training across all levels," said Karen L. Merkle, vice president for continuing education and work-force training at the two-year college. "This center is a beacon for business, set in an academic community."

Although the training center is a new feature of the Westminster campus - the building officially opens with the start of the fall semester next month - the college has been offering businesses courses and technology training for decades.

With the new center, the college will be able to expand those classes and offer many others. Although its staff cannot build a training-technology program overnight, it can come close, said John T. "Jack" Lyburn, Carroll County's director of economic development. "They can react quickly to a business' training need and put a program together that works for that company," he said.

Merkle readily responded when members of the county's Economic Development Commission decried the lack of technically trained employees. The EDC recently had seen the results of a county-commissioned labor study showing that employers are increasingly looking to hire people with advanced computer skills, but that the local pool of trained candidates is small: Twenty-seven percent of Carroll's work force would be qualified for those jobs.

"We have things in place for the business community," Merkle said. "The challenge is getting information to that community. We have industrial clusters, a conference room for business seminars, a kitchenette, and every room is equipped for multimedia presentations."

The $6,500 survey involved responses from area businesses that gave Carroll's labor force high marks for basic skills but low grades in written communication and technology. Computer literacy and employee training were the top concerns of the 128 companies that responded to the survey.

"We are an emerging county with many small businesses that sometimes need specialized training for one person," Merkle said. "Our real strength is that we can customize. We have so many resources here."

If CCC can't do it, the staff knows who can. College President Faye Pappalardo said the school has access to a statewide business training network that strengthens available resources.

Merkle, on the CCC faculty since 1988, said she can't recall any time that the business center had to deny a company's request for training. Much of the training involves computer literacy, communication, work force safety and customer skills. "We can get a trainer in here, an expert in any field that a company might need," said Merkle.

For Lyburn, the college is an invaluable resource, one that he usually praises when he is trying to lure businesses to Carroll County. "They are a great resource for us and a great help with marketing," he said. "We make what they can do part of our pitch to prospects, and we have provided training funds. Most of the major employers here use them."

The college offers online courses in its credit and noncredit programs. Training classes can lead to an associate's degree. A 30-hour police training course was the starting point for what is now a program offering a degree in criminal justice. The college hopes to make financial aid available soon for its noncredit training programs.

"We are out there and we are flexible - we can customize," Merkle said. "We are not tied down by semesters, and we can get course approval fairly quickly. We can meet new demands as the world changes."

The college serves about 100 businesses annually, but with about 3,500 companies in the county, the training staff would like to do more, she said.

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