How does Wichita look from Washington, D.C.?
Pretty impressive if you’re in the workforce training field.
More than a dozen congressional staffers flew to Wichita this week for quick peek at what federal dollars mean to local job training efforts.
On a Friday filled with inspiring stories, impressive machines and nuts-and-bolts policy discussion, they toured Spirit AeroSystems, Kaman Composites, the National Center for Aviation Training and NexStep Alliance, a new program to help adults get job training as they work toward their GED.
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They were able to see new students crowd around the engine of a Cessna 172, spread epoxy onto woven carbon fiber mats and learn the right way to drill holes in sheet metal.
The staffers are the authorities for their congressional offices on workforce and economic security issues. They came to see how public and private dollars are actually spent in Wichita, and whether the way the federal program rules are written create problems.
Wichita and Kansas were picked because the city is known for how well local and state governments, colleges and private industry work together to create worker training programs, said Mary Clagett, director of workforce policy for Jobs for the Future, a nonprofit group that helped organize the trip.
“It’s a way to get experts here so they can see best practices as well as barriers,” she said.
“Wichita and Kansas is well known for being ahead of many other places for the way it aligns programs and works collaboratively to establish an effective workforce training effort,” she said.
Local officials detailed how funding is pulled together from various grants and programs, mostly federal, with different rules and goals, to create a reasonably seamless program to take students from high school to technical college to a job, with the support and advice of local aircraft and health care employers.
“There is a relentless focus on collaboration,” said Rod Blackburn, CEO of WB Construction and chairman of the board of the Workforce Alliance of South Central Kansas.
Local and state officials talked about the growth in the number of high school students who get aircraft training at Wichita Area Technical College, the cutting-edge equipment, the emphasis on students earning industry certifications and the promise by Spirit and Cessna that graduates of WATC are guaranteed at least an interview.
And local officials also talked about how their hands are sometimes tied in how they can spend money.
“Flexibility in how we can use these funds is really a key,” said Sheree Utash, vice president of WATC.