The Union County Development Association has been holding a series of informational and discussion breakfasts for area industry CEOs and human resource managers.
A topic that keeps coming up is the problem of finding properly trained employees to hire, and employees that understand what the job entails and the work ethic needed to succeed in it.
Northeast Mississippi Community College’s workforce training division has some ways to assist solving these problems and those at this month’s UCDA breakfast Thursday got an up-close look at one.
That answer is the new mobile Tiger Training Lab, a $195,000 converted box car that can effectively assess the skills and qualifications of applicants for a wide range of jobs through deceptively simple exercises.
“Someone may tell you they can life 20 pounds all day when in reality they have an injured wrist,” workforce director Nadara Cole told the group, “but this lab will quickly discover the truth.”
The lab is another step in a progression of specialized training programs and skills certification by the school.
“This lab is fully equipped to serve five counties,” Cole said.
While it will be at one of the participating campuses much of the time, it is designed to be mobile.
“We can move it to your plant if you need it for a little while,” Cole told the industrial leaders at the meeting.
The lab comes equipped with “Job P.A.S.S.” equipment, but the unit has a wheelchair lift to assist getting handicapped applicants inside that can also be used to swap the Job P.A.S.S. equipment to meet specific needs of any particular plant.
“They have a full-blown Job P.A.S.S. lab in Corinth, where they have a much larger facility,” Cole said, but the mobile lab should serve our area well.
The foundation for the training and assessment programs was when a consortium was created in 2004 with three Northeast Mississippi colleges, Cole said.
It seemed to be a good idea to think in terms of specializing, what with funding cutbacks. “So each school could be expert in a different area and share resources,” she said. More and more schools were added and the consortium now serves 27 counties, partly thanks to help from Toyota.
“The governor wanted the whole state and 15 community colleges to participate…We were way ahead of the game,” Cole said.
The workforce division has several goals, including attaining the highest educational levels, health care and, in this case, testing, Cole said.
“The right person in the right job is so important,” she said. “They are going to stay.”
To help match trainees to jobs, the school has developed a Career Readiness Certification program that trains in many aspects of reading for information, applied math and locating information. Depending on the trainee’s level of achievement in the various areas, he or she is assigned a level: either Bronze, Silver, Gold or Platinum. Workforce personnel can do a profile of many technical jobs and determine which certification level is needed for it.
Career readiness requires a full regular class but the mobile lab’s assessment can be done in one visit.
“The whole Job P.A.S.S. assessment takes four hours and is very physical,” Cole said. “Our hope is that more employers will validate this and use it.”
Among tests in the mobile lab is a shipping simulation that begins with small weighed objects that must be transferred into same-shaped receptacles, and the weight gradually increases to 35 pounds. This test will reveal the applicant’s true strength quickly.
Another test appears to only involve moving differently shaped pieces of material from once place to another, but actually measures shape discrimination, manual dexterity in working with the fasteners, working above ones head, squatting and working with movable surfaces.
A third test uses a hammer and hand tools to add or remove small rods from a larger one. There is a wiring test and another where the person being tested moves a pattern under a stationary pen not unlike sewing a pattern to test hand-eye coordination. A more sophisticated computer test measures color shade discrimination as well as shapes and problem solving.
“We suggest you (the employer) take part of this test so you know exactly what you are requiring people to do,” Cole said.
The value of good applicant screening should be obvious, she said.
“You know you spend a lot of time training and then people leave. It’s frustrating,” Cole said. “Maybe people just can’t do the job or maybe they didn’t understand what the job was.”
The mobile lab should overcome that and those taking the tour were visibly impressed with the thoroughness of the planning of the various assessment tests.
The Tiger Lab will be in New Albany for a week or two and Cole suggested that representatives from all local industries visit it and see what it can do for them.
Northeast representative David Goode, who oversees the New Albany campus, also reminded those present of the more traditional classes as well as those geared toward technology in particular.
The local Northeast campus should have a successful year, Goode said.
“We will have about 343 students at New Albany, which is a little more than last year,” he said. “We are really excited.”
Goode said that Tuesday is usually their big class night, for instance, but he also has a 7:15 double enrollment Algebra class that filled quickly.
Workforce representatives Ben Shappley and Greg James provided the lab tour and also talked about the other workforce programs being offered, especially the industrial maintenance skills program going on now.