Those who have their sights set on providing more opportunities for career technical training in Lawrence now are looking east.
This fall, Johnson County Community College will begin offering classes to help fill the void of tech savvy employees in Lawrence.
"You've got to start somewhere," said Bruce Passman, Lawrence public schools deputy superintendent. "And this is the place. We see this as having great possibility. Ten years down the road, I think we'll be able to look back and say we did something really great for the community."
It's a partnership that's been in the works for years. Since 2004, a joint task force made up of local education, business and industry representatives has been studying the community's technical needs, and searching for ways to provide more career-oriented training for students and adults in Lawrence.
Through conversations as a group and official data collected by the Institute for Policy and Social Research at Kansas University, task force members learned:
¢ Douglas County workers currently are not meeting the needs of local employers.
¢ High school students need more technical training.
¢ Companies with similar needs are not collaborating to help share costs and resources.
"I'm thrilled," said JCCC's Loralee Stevens, who will help coordinate the new program in Lawrence. "As a longtime (former) Lawrence resident, I saw the need through my friends who worked in the high schools, my neighbors who had teenagers and they noticed the lack of opportunity. I would often get questions about Johnson County Community College."
Jason Crawford, lead Lawrence High School DECA adviser, said a technical education for high school students is critical.
He said in the career and technical education program at the high school, he sees students who lack "soft skills" - communication, presentation and team-building skills.
Stevens said the new JCCC program will be open to high school juniors and seniors, and adults in the community.
Crawford said the school has worked with JCCC to allow high school graduates to enter the program seamlessly. He said students in the new program could receive class waivers for those they already passed in high school.
Patrick Kelly, the school district's specialist in fine arts and career and technical education, said it's the district's job to prepare students for their futures whether it be in the work force or a post-secondary education.
It might seem strange that the Lawrence school district is looking across county lines for help. After all, KU is literally in its backyard.
"KU has a lot of great qualities and they do a lot of things well," Passman said, "but they'd probably be the first to tell you technical education is not really their forte, and they have encouraged us to find someone else who has the expertise, has the programs in place and the resources to help us accomplish our goals."
The program is a success in the eyes of Dave Loch. He is the co-chairman of the Technical Training Task Force, a community group that has tried to make technical training available to Douglas County and Lawrence residents.
"I think there are many populations of people this will benefit," he said. "No. 1, I think people in Lawrence and Douglas County will have the ability to take more control of their earning power if they have the opportunity to improve their skill set."
He said the new program would be a benefit to employers as well because they would have the ability to train existing employees in Lawrence instead of sending them elsewhere.
JCCC's presence in Lawrence will start out small. The details are still being worked out, but officials with the college and the school district said a career health care class likely will be offered in the fall.
Where it will be held and how much tuition students will have to pay have not yet been determined.
Eventually, Passman said, JCCC will offer classes in Lawrence in career health care, computer technology and culinary arts.
"Hopefully, this will reduce the number of students who have to look elsewhere," he said. "We're trying to expand the career technical clusters that we offer in our community and in our school district, and we're hoping that by Johnson County finding a place here in Douglas County, that they'll be able to expand their offerings, not just to K-12, but to adults, in terms of adult education, and then most importantly to business and industry."