In a time when Rock County businesses and employees are examining ways to reinvent themselves and be more marketable, Blackhawk Technical College is working to provide flexible delivery of specialized training.

Mark Borowicz, director of workforce and community development for the college, said that training looks different in 2020.

“We are doing a lot of work right now with several companies to help continue to retrain and to train their workers. What the pandemic has done is created some interesting challenges for us on delivery of training,” he said.

Noncredit, general business skill training such as communication, computer applications and leadership often is conducted via Zoom meetings.

Industry-based skill training for credit has been changed to more of a one-on-one model for students and to accommodate social distancing.

In an educational model brought to the college by President Tracy Pierner, college training for area businesses is easier than in the past.

Businesses and employees can identify skills and competencies they wish to master, and instead of enrolling in a three-credit, semester-long course, they can take 36-hour, one-credit training classes instead.

“We’re kind of chunking out those learning outcomes so that it’s an industry student saying: ‘You know, what, I don’t need a three-credit class. I probably need these four or five competencies,’” Borowicz said.

“Well, those are now available in several one credit module chunks ... So an employer can select—and this is where we worked very well with our local employers—to say let’s identify the specific skill sets that your folks need,” Borowicz said.

The college has 12 to 14 employers sending about 44 student employees to receive this kind of specialized training. Classes often are split between area employees and full-time students.

Companies such as Hormel Foods are taking advantage of the opportunity.

Hunter Pagel, human resources manager for the Beloit plant, said this is the first year that the company is utilizing Blackhawk Tech’s training program. It is paying for two production employees to take credits at the college as they work to become mechanics.

The students work at the plant each day, receiving training as well as participating in the college courses.

“We partnered with Blackhawk Tech to make sure that our employees can get the tools that they need to advance themselves in their careers or even get into the maintenance field,” Pagel said.

The college’s shorter business educational model, despite classes only being 36-hours long, provides a well-rounded and comprehensive education, Borowicz said.

“It’s a very competency-based model where they have to demonstrate the skills before they can move on to the next credit versus just ‘Hey, we got content, we got to plow through it, we gotta get through it’. It’s really based on demonstrating, and let’s see how you’ve done that particular skill that you have to do. Because once you’ve mastered that, we can move on to the next skill.”

Especially in a year when the pandemic has caused uncertainty, the flexibility allowed by the educational model is important for workforce development, Borowicz said.

“I think allowing this one credit education in a pandemic situation has really allowed that flexibility for employers to identify: ‘Who can I send based on who’s here, who’s available, who’s safe, and I still want to be able to get them the training that they need to be successful in our business.’”

Pagel said the process has been enjoyed by the company students in the program.

“The interactions I’ve had with the two employees that we sent, they’re loving the program,” he said. “They’re glad that they’ve gotten into the program, and they feel that it’s a steppingstone for them to better themselves and to really develop them in their professional career.”

College employees typically visit area businesses to work with them and identify training modules before the academic leaders approve courses.

In a time when the state chamber of commerce is asking technical colleges to be more flexible to help rural communities, Borowicz said Rock County’s flexible college learning model makes sense.

“From our standpoint, I think it’s that vision of we need to be more responsive. I think that goes to some of that rapport of being responsive to industry needs, whether they’re short-term training, or whether they’re credit modules or whatever that platform looks like, as a technical college, we really take our pride in being flexible and being nimble.

“To me, this really allows us to be at that next level because it’s condensed more, but it’s very selective for the employers.”

Borowicz hopes more industries will join the college’s talent development model.

“In that advanced manufacturing area, that’s really how a lot of our curriculum is being delivered. We’re looking at now, how do we incorporate that in it? How do we incorporate that in our business programs? How do we make that model a little bit more available to employers, as well?”