Las Vegas Sun

May 25, 2015

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Educated workforce is top priority for state, CSN

Nevada 3.0: Economic development

As the Legislature considers several proposals to improve the economy, CSN President Dr. Michael Richards writes about his views of the community college's role in this piece.

The Sun's editorial board weighs in on the state's direction. The Sun also asks Steve Hill, the executive director of the Governor's Office for Economic Development, a few questions about the state's progress.

This is all part of the Sun's Nevada 3.0 project, which is looking at issues confronting the state and ways to move forward.

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Nevada has never had more momentum to diversify its economy than today. Our community is making visionary plans for the future that involve progressive transportation alternatives, investments in research and development, and entrepreneurship.

It’s no secret that for years we’ve lacked the necessary emphasis on education, and Nevada has the low graduation and college-going rates to show for it. So unless we want out-of-state talent securing the jobs at the businesses this state is working so hard to attract, we must fortify our own Battle Born workforce.

There are many exciting developments, and I look forward to supporting the Las Vegas Regional Development Authority as it releases a comprehensive strategy to support Gov. Brian Sandoval’s efforts this spring. There is much we must do going forward. Here’s my vision for what this community’s college can do for economic development.

In Nevada, 16 percent of residents age 16 and older lack basic literacy skills, according to the National Center for Education Statistics’ most recent data (2003). In Clark County, that number is 18 percent, the highest percentage in any Nevada county.

At CSN, the non-academic-credit Division of Workforce & Economic Development does heavy lifting. In fiscal year 2012, the division’s grant-supported literacy program enrolled more than 2,000 students. That’s about double the number of CSN students who transferred to UNLV this fall.

CSN’s DWED has a waiting list of students who want these non-academic-credit, basic reading skills and GED/ESL courses, offered throughout the valley, including the Strip.

The division works closely with the state’s Department of Employment, Training & Rehabilitation to pre-screen clients for workforce readiness and provide the necessary training. This ACT assessment measures “real world” skills that are crucial to job success. It leads to a National Career Readiness Certificate, a portable credential earned by more than 1 million Americans.

Finally. We have credible documentation for residents who cannot upend their lives at the moment to get a college degree to show employers exactly what they can do.

But how many Nevada employers know about WorkKeys and actively seek out hires with the NCRC credential? The ACT carries a lot of weight when used as a measure of college readiness, why not the workforce? We need to do more to promote this as an economic development tool.

When I meet with CSN students, I encourage them to reach beyond an associate degree to a bachelor’s and beyond. But that path is not for everyone. CSN offers a number of two-year degree programs that lead graduates into successful, well-paying technical careers. We must enhance their appeal. We live in the desert and yet air conditioning maintenance, for all its job security, is an often overlooked career field. This is a similar story for many of the STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) fields, including electronics, power utilities and aviation.

I want to increase the number of partnerships CSN has with local industries, particularly in areas outlined in the governor’s economic development plan. A great example of this is the college’s partnership with the electronics-based defense contractor JT3. Students take six core courses in CSN’s electronics engineering program and then apply with the company. If hired, the student may be offered a bonus to help cover the costs of the courses they have already taken. In addition, JT3 encourages the student to complete their associate of applied science in electronics degree by covering the tuition and books.

Of course, CSN, an open-door school, has a unique role as the most affordable postsecondary education in the southern half of the state, and we are an excellent pathway to a four-year degree at Nevada State College, UNLV and UNR. In this effort, we need to do more to help students successfully achieve their goals. For too long, we’ve asked them to navigate financial aid, degree requirements and transfers on their own.

This spring, I look forward to seeing the results of the Las Vegas Regional Development Authority’s planning, a collaborative process meant to ensure economic development leaves no socioeconomic group behind.

Providing our residents with the skills they need to succeed in a changing job market gives people independence, confidence and job security.

What Nevada has now is a savvy workforce that knows how to survive in tough times. More education can help us entice successful companies to move here and foster the kind of environment where new ventures can thrive.

Dr. Michael Richards is the president of the College of Southern Nevada.

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