Embracing tacticsPublished 3:13pm Monday, May 14, 2012
Workforce development, schools take Ky. fact-finding tour on ‘Toyota culture’
Around 25 representatives of businesses, the Chamber of Commerce, Alexander City schools and Central Alabama Community College traveled to Scott County, Ky., on a fact-finding mission to improve workforce development at the end of April.Horn
In the city of Georgetown, Ky., this workforce development group met with the Center for Quality People and Organizations – a nonprofit organization based on Toyota’s “plan, do, check, act” system of continuous improvement – and discussed various models revolving around the best practices in education, business and the community.
Dan Meeks, chair of the chamber board of directors and vice president at AmTech, said the trip was a part of the workforce development committee of the chamber, springboarded by legwork done by AmTech.
“We started on this journey to look at a more progressive ways of manufacturing and how to participate in some of the same systems that Toyota is famous for,” Meeks said. “We were lucky enough to get involved … and go with some of the city leaders and the board of education to take a fact-finding tour, just to get an idea of the plan and the process they’ve put in place.”
Meeks said the Kentucky group “saw a need to embrace some of the tactics and saw a path to instill them in education” and then formed the CQPO.
The CQPO put a program into effect called QUEST – Quest for Useful Employment Skills for Tomorrow – at a Kentucky school that better combines classes and workplace techniques, said Marvin Wagoner, chamber president.
“Their process was one that took students from the high school for half a day and placed them in an advanced vocational-technical classes in an area of their strongest interest,” Marvin Wagoner said. “It takes academia and shows how it fits in the real world.”
Meeks said the Kentucky school is broken up into “villages” that focus on each of three areas: biomedical sciences, engineering and media arts.
“A big part of the success of their programs is that their grades count on successful presentation skills,” Meeks said. “As part of their final grade in each discipline, they have to do a formal presentation to a committee of professionals that score them outside of their everyday teachers. For example, biomedical presentations would have a panel of doctors or media arts may have a panel of producers.”
Superintendent Lou Ann Wagoner said the core idea of Toyota’s culture of continuous improvement, which focuses on problem-solving processes and utilizing teamwork, was once a practice used in the Alexander City Schools that “fell by the wayside.”
“We did this about 10 years ago and called it cooperative learning,” Lou Ann Wagoner said. “This is not a new tool, but we need to go back and realize the importance of something we used to do. It makes everybody accountable and creates students who are college and career ready.”
Meek said the team found some “really interesting concepts and practices” but wasn’t sure if the CQPO’s exact model would fit Alexander City as of yet.
“We’re still really early in the process, but we’ve got a lot of planning and studying to do to determine if it’s something we’d be willing to pursue,” Meeks said.
Marvin Wagoner added that it took the CQPO 10 years to develop the program and vo-technical school it has today and that it wouldn’t “happen overnight” locally, either.
“This is a piece of puzzle, a piece of study determining what’s going to be best for us to transition students into the workforce,” Marvin Wagoner said.
“(The Kentucky school) started small and got a few teachers involved, and as the process grew they got more teachers on board because teachers saw how beneficial it was for the students,” Lou Ann Wagoner said. “We’re going to begin looking at our faculty and at teachers we think are always ready to buy into a different concept to improve their instruction, and we’d like to start some training this summer.”
Teachers, along with AmTech employees and individuals interested in the process, will be trained by the CQPO.
Lou Ann Wagoner stressed that the continuous improvement technique would not add additional content to classrooms.
“This is an additional procedure they can incorporate in order to make the students good team members,” Lou Ann Wagoner said. “We want children to be productive, but we don’t want a company like AmTech to have to retrain our students in this when we can make it second nature for them in the classroom. They can leave school here and go right into the workplace and know how to deal with teamwork, solving problems and continuous improvement.”
Marvin Wagoner said the chamber’s workforce development committee was currently in transition, as the chair of the committee Mike Densmore would soon be moving from the area.
“He is a Methodist minister and has recently been reassigned to a much larger church,” Marvin Wagoner said. “We’re in the process of filling his slot.”
Wagoner and Meeks agreed that businesses, the Alexander City schools and Central Alabama Community College would remain active in pursuing better workforce development techniques.
“We’ve got to have a meeting and see who was on the trip that can attend and see where it takes us from there,” Meeks said. “Then we make a plan and see what makes sense. We want a to take a lot of buy-in from the school system and BOE and get support from the area businesses to take on some of the challenges this model presents. There is quite a bit of training that would need to occur for us to use this model, and there are other models to look at.”