- In 2016 the Northern Wyoming Community College District won a $5M career-training grant.
- The grant will train workers for jobs in five key industry sectors: health care, information technology, advanced manufacturing, educational services, and financial services.
- By training new college students and displaced workers, NWCCD hopes to diversify the workforce and help Wyoming and Montana regain financial footing.
- The speed and granularity of Emsi data enabled NWCCD to gather the right intel in an absurdly short timeframe.
The year 2016 ended on a high note for The Northern Wyoming Community College District (NWCCD), a 2,000-student community college district in the heart of rural Wyoming. Partnering with three other regional colleges in Wyoming and Montana to form the Educating Toward Economic Diversity (ETED) Partnership, NWCCD applied for, and won, a $5M career-training grant.
This was an exceptional win for a couple of reasons. First, out of 23 awards and $111 million, the ETED Partnership was one of only seven community college applicants to receive an award. Second, the consortium was the only college partnership to straddle state lines—a geographical quirk that posed a gnarly challenge during the intense research and writing phase.
Joy Baule, data support specialist for NWCCD and primary researcher on the writing team, credits Emsi’s labor market data as a critical component of clinching the win. The key benefits of Emsi data: breadth, granularity, and above all, speed.
“Emsi gave me access to Montana data, which bolstered my research and pushed us into a higher level of competitiveness,” said Baule. “But the biggest boost was time. Having done research and slogged through the internet without Emsi, I am confident that I wouldn’t have hit my deadline apart from this data.”
Go Big or Go Home
Initially, Baule didn’t intend to pursue anything so ambitious as $5 million. But that changed when she started digging into the data. The funding opportunity announcement allowed colleges to focus on one or more of five industries: 1) health care, 2) information technology (with a special emphasis on cybersecurity), 3) advanced manufacturing, 4) educational services, and 5) financial services—each identified by the Department of Labor as a prime area for enhancing or creating jobs.
The deciding moment: Baule discovered that all five industries had a gap in current employment and that the demand for professionals in those industries was projected to grow through 2025.
After that, it was simply a matter of determining which college partner could help where. MSUB-CC was already a regional leader in health care and IT. NWCCD and Casper could focus on IT and advanced manufacturing. This would leave Laramie covering the bulk of educational services and financial services.
Pursue all five industries, the team decided.
“Bottom line, if we asked for $5 million, we could help more students, so we went for the $5 million,” Baule said. “I knew that if we didn’t throw up something big, our proposal would probably get ignored. What did we have to lose? Nothing! Go big or go home. It was the Hail Mary pass of grant-writing.”
The vision for the grant—the reason for focusing so keenly on all five industries—is twofold. First, to help pull Wyoming and Montana out of the economic tailspin that struck when the coal industry experienced the downturn of 2016. Second, to help insulate the region against future declines by diversifying the economy.
While the coal industry may never be the same, the grant will allow Sheridan and its fellow colleges to prepare incoming college students and jobseekers (including newly displaced coal workers) for high-demand, high-growth, and high-wage jobs in the key industries, which will help the states regain financial footing.
“We knew the region was in trouble—and here’s what we want to do about it,” Baule explained about the grant proposal. “Our goal: Get the population in and retrained.”
Eighty percent of the $5 million will assist students, in whole or in part, by covering tuition, fees, and some testing costs for industry-recognized certifications (such as Microsoft or Cisco certificates) or licensing fees (such as those required for Licensed Practical Nurses). Short-term certificates that boast industry-recognized credentials are likely to be covered 100%, while students in long-term programs are usually assisted only during the first year. “We’re focusing on short-term trainings so students can get in and out the door and start working in these industries quickly,” Baule said.
“Our goal: Get the population in and retrained.” — Joy Baule, primary grant researcher
The ETED Partnership has another mission related to boosting economic recovery: keep people from fleeing Wyoming and Montana. The boom-bust cycle of the coal industry, as well as oil and natural gas, is sadly typical of the region, and so are people’s reactions…until 2016.
“Normally, when the economy gets bad, people come back to college,” Baule said. “Well, this time they didn’t. They took their skills where their skills were needed instead of going back to college to get new skills.” This was compounded, data shows, by younger people seeking jobs in industries other than natural resources and mining, for which there are few easily recognizable opportunities in the region.
As jobseekers left Wyoming and Montana in droves, the ETED Partnership shifted its stance beyond merely training people and putting them back to work. The first step was getting to know the average learner better. Did they want short-term certifications and licenses? Did they want associate-level degrees that would lead them directly into available employment? Or were they interested in transferring to advanced programs that would move them higher up the career ladder?
Based on industry research and student feedback, the ETED Partnership decided that part of the focus under the grant would be to revamp the recruiting and advising processes to better meet student needs. Thanks to the small population, recruiters and advisors developed more personal, case-management style relationships with current and prospective students, as well as local and regional business partners to better address both sides of the employment equation. “We ask them, What do you want to do? What’s your pie in the sky, and what is feasible?”
By quickly preparing students for meaningful local and regional jobs, the ETED Partnership hopes to encourage workers and younger people to stay. “We want to focus on the people here—helping the existing population,” Baule said.
How Emsi Data Informed the Grant
Baule has been an avid user of Emsi data since 2014. With Emsi, the college has access to ready-made reports and can deliver rapid-fire research—perfect for Baule’s crunch time as she wrote significant portions of the proposal last summer. From the first week of July to the deadline on August 25, she researched and analyzed and wrote at a full sprint. Her task: demonstrate the region’s hunger for workers in the five given industries.
First, she researched industries to get a pulse on current employment across her region, which lies in the corridor from Yellowstone County in Montana to Laramie County in the southeastern corner of Wyoming. For each industry, she pulled the number of jobs available, average wages (minimum $23/hour), and projected growth (at least 10% growth 2015-2025). “Solid wages and good projected growth seemed to signify a good risk,” she said.
The next step was to drill down into the occupations, and then even deeper into the colleges’ CIP codes. When she compared these jobs to the opening/completions data from each college, she discovered significant gaps. Advanced manufacturing, for example, had about 960 openings while the colleges were producing only 388 completions, leaving a gap of 572. “There’s your need!” she declared with triumph.
Baule and the proposal team wrote consistently (sometimes logging 80 hours a week) for almost two months. Such a blitz would have been unthinkable without immediate access to the data. “The amount of time it would have taken without Emsi would have been crazy—I wouldn’t have gotten the same information in time,” she said. “With Emsi, I can get an answer almost instantly. I can decide, Should I pursue this, or should I dig somewhere else?”
Conclusion: Imitating NWCCD’s Success
NWCCD has been shrewd in both vision and strategy while fighting a situation all too familiar for many US colleges. Facing economic woes, collapsing industries, and jobless workers in need of retraining for new careers, what should a college do? In Baule’s words: “Get ready to change your footing.”
Analyze the demographic; what type of education or training do they actually need? Study the occupations that need workers and compare those with local completion rates in corresponding programs; where are the gaps? Know your institution’s strengths; what can you offer? Connect with industry partners; how can you build better relationships?
“With Emsi, I can get an answer almost instantly.”
If you are like Joy Baule, you are a self-professed data geek. She loves hiding in her office and obsessing over industries and occupations, numbers and percentages, records and projections. But while the assumption comes easily that data is just for nerds who shut themselves off from the world, in the end, it’s all about getting out in the world and changing lives.
Baule is firm in her belief that the right labor market data at the right time can help an institution make effective decisions. “I tell my institution, ‘Here’s the value of Emsi. You can ask me a quick question about an industry or program, and I can get back to you within the hour. I can write a proposal and we can end up with a $5M award.”
Thanks to NWCCD’s actions, both students and jobseekers in Wyoming and Montana—and through them, the states’ economies—will feel a change for the better.