Task force to study options for vo-tech

Chamber says businesses in need of skilled workers

A recently appointed 31-member task force of area business leaders and educators will examine the creation of a vocational-technical school in Lawrence.

Officials with the Lawrence Chamber of Commerce and the Lawrence school district created the task force, which will conduct its first meeting at 3 p.m. today at the Lawrence school district’s headquarters, 110 McDonald Drive.

Business leaders said Tuesday that there was a need for more blue-collar and technical training in the area.

“There seems to be a growing gap in what people have and what they need to be successful in the working world,” said Dave Loch, plant manager at Progress Vanguard and a co-chair of the task force. “I think it (training) is a pretty big need in the community right now.”

Loch said the task force would:

  • do an assessment of the types of skills needed in the community,
  • look at ways to deliver the training,
  • look at the funding options and feasibility of a training center.

“We need to say that we’re going to have someplace for training in this community,” Loch said. “I would hope that at some point that is where this group leads us.”

Lynn Parman, vice president of economic development for the chamber, said a variety of options for starting a center likely would be considered. She said the task force would explore partnerships between Kansas University’s Continuing Education, community colleges and area school districts.

Chamber leaders said businesses had been complaining about difficulties in hiring employees with skills such as welding, maintenance operations and general manufacturing skills.

The chamber’s 2002/2003 Business Retention Task Force found that 76 percent of businesses surveyed had problems recruiting employees with technical skills, Parman said. She said preliminary results from this year’s survey indicated the issue was still a problem.

“The results really showed us that we needed a coordinated effort,” Parman said. “These are definitely the people who can help us solve the issue because it is a very broad-based group.”

Parman said if the training needs of businesses weren’t met it could lead to a downturn in economic development.

“If plant managers want to do a high-tech expansion, we want them to know they have the work force they need to expand,” Parman said. “We don’t want them to feel like they need to look somewhere else.”

The task force is expected to meet monthly for about a year, Parman said.

Here’s a list of members of the Lawrence Chamber of Commerce and Lawrence school district’s technical education task force:Bruce Passman, co-chair, Lawrence school district; Dave Loch, co-chair, Progress Vanguard Corp.; Steve Nilhas, co-chair, Lawrence High School; Betty Anastasio, Johnson County Community College; Brad Roetman, Sauer-Danfoss Co.; Charlie Kuszmaul, Lawrence school district; Charlie Shelton, Allen Press Inc.; Cheryl White, Lawrence Workforce Center; Cindy Yulich, Lawrence school board; Debra Thompson, Lawrence Memorial Hospital; Dee Bisel, Minuteman Press; Dwayne Peaslee, retired union leader; Eileen Caspers, Kaw Valley Technical School; James White, Baldwin school district; JoAnn Smith, Kansas University Continuing Education; Karen Swisher, Haskell Indian Nations University; Kirsten Krug, Amarr Garage Doors; Larry Pope, Serologicals Corp.; Linda Robinson, Lawrence school board; Luanne Scott, Heartland Works; Lynne Green, Van Go Mobile Arts Inc.; Lynn Parman, Lawrence Chamber of Commerce; Marty Kobza, Eudora school district; Ralph Beachum, Southeast Kansas Education Service Center; Rebecca Clothier, Pinnacle Career Institute; Rob Marshall, Del Monte Foods; Sarah Martin, Lawrence school district, Shirley Martin-Smith, Adecco; Steve Jack, Topeka Workforce Center; Steve Johnston, Perry/Lecompton school district; and Sue Morgan, Lawrence school board.