Written by: Rob Dixon
More than ever before, Missouri’s businesses demand a skilled, ready workforce. Our economic development strategies have responded accordingly, but there has not been a similar refocusing in workforce development. Substantial disruptions are already underway in the workforce due to many factors, causing serious concern among business about the quality and quantity of Missouri’s workforce. How our state addresses this issue now will directly determine our economic trajectory over the next generation.
Workforce development is often cited as one of the most important factors in business expansion and relocation decisions, but it can also be one of the most complicated and least resourced areas within the broader economic development process. Over the last decade and a half, Missouri has dramatically reduced funding for its core workforce development programs.
A confounding number of programs – federal, state, and local – intertwine to create our workforce development system. Rather than a coherent effort to simply and strategically provide the workforce that grows our state’s economy, Missouri’s employers face a web of confusing programs and agencies.
The number of agencies that comprise this web is seemingly endless: local and state workforce investment boards, career centers, local education agencies, multiple state and federal bureaucracies, proprietary technical schools, universities, and community colleges, among many others. As a result, employers are confused about where and how to access the training resources they need to fuel their growth. There is no single point of entry to help a business navigate through the complexity.
Missouri’s workforce development process must be streamlined. We must improve the ease of access for businesses, improve the customer service and flexibility of the programs, and provide additional funding for workforce training to keep Missouri competitive with other states.
As local entities, community colleges work with their local economic development organizations to assist with training programs for business attraction, retention, and expansion projects. Due to the capacity of both the community college and the local economic development organizations, however, this process varies greatly across the state.
By breaking down a number of procedural barriers and working as a consortium, Missouri’s community colleges can provide a nimble, single point of access with a solid customer-service orientation that aligns our workforce development system directly with our economic development efforts.
A consortium of all of Missouri’s community colleges, working together, can break down geographic boundaries, provide a single point of access, and help provide relevant information to win more deals for our state. As a result, firms have the ability to access and leverage resources by engaging with a single point of contact.
Community colleges will serve every square inch of Missouri, even if the local college is not the primary training provider on a project within its own region. Our network allows community colleges to break down geographic boundaries by working together to serve the business’s needs.
Rob Dixon is the President and CEO of the Missouri Community College Association. Previously he served as executive vice president of the Springfield Area Chamber of Commerce and executive director of the Hollister Area Chamber of Commerce. Dixon has a master’s degree in public administration from Missouri State University. He received his bachelor’s degree in political science from the University of Missouri – Saint Louis, and his associate degree from St. Charles Community College. Prior to that, he served during Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan, as a communications intelligence intercept operator and analyst in the Marine Corps.