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Industry certifications proposed to give Kan. workers an edge

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Monday, Oct. 29, 2012, at 11:15 p.m.

How do you give Kansas manufacturers and their workers an edge in a global economy?

Gov. Sam Brownback’s administration is pushing one possible answer: more industry certifications for manufacturing workers.

Brownback and dozens of state, college and industry officials gathered Monday at the National Center for Aviation Training, 4004 N. Webb Road, to discuss the effort.

The idea is that state technical and community colleges would provide students with training and testing for the appropriate industry certificate, such as welding or composite work. Certification would come from outside industry groups.

Officials said the approach would address manufacturers’ complaints that they can’t enough competent workers for the jobs they have open – the “skills gap.”

“It’s all about getting the right skills on the right team on the right field, just like in football,” said Commerce Secretary Pat George.

The state hopes businesses would want workers with a guaranteed minimum standard of training, and pay them better as a result.

Officials argue that certified workers would get an edge over non-certified workers not only here, but around the world. And the state would get more competitive businesses and a better-paid workforce.

The effort is already moving forward.

Fort Hays State University received a $900,000 state grant to develop a coalition of colleges to provide manufacturing certifications.

The state’s technical and community colleges are now required to test for certification in many programs, said Blake Flanders, vice president for Workforce Development for the Kansas Board of Regents.

The regents are instituting a system where it reimburses member colleges more for more costly technical programs, eliminating a disincentive to offer expensive training.

And the regents have also adopted three measures for evaluating technical education programs: job placement rates, wages of graduates and the number of graduates who earned credentials.

The board has started collecting that information, but hasn’t started funding or de-funding programs based on the information yet, Flanders said.

The problem with certifications is that it’s a bit of a chicken-and-egg situation. Businesses won’t pay more for certified workers if they don’t see the value. And workers won’t go to the trouble of getting certified if businesses don’t reward it, say state officials.

So, the state is pushing the business community to embrace certification by holding up examples such as Spirit AeroSystems, Crossland Construction of Columbus, Kan., and Exide Technologies, which has facilities in Salina and Kansas City, Kan..

Reach Dan Voorhis at 316-268-6577 or dvoorhis@wichitaeagle.com

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