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Nevada ready to embrace corporation-university partnerships

Imagine a time in which businesses work directly with educational institutions to custom-make their employees.

“I really believe that in the future you will see more partnerships between corporations and universities, and delivering very specific training — because that’s what universities do well. We have access to facilities and we have access to teachers,” said Leith Martin, executive director for the Center for Entrepreneurship at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

It’s already happening in the state and in the country with certificate programs — and Nevada is about to take the concept further as it works to create an entirely different workforce to offer companies such as autonomous-car manufacturer Faraday Future.

“We are trying to provide multiple career pathways, so it isn’t just a choice of, ‘Well, I either go to higher education or I settle for a job that is just a job and not a career,” said Dale Erquiaga, Gov. Brian Sandoval’s chief strategy officer. “We’re also trying to add to the workforce skills for what the governor always calls the new Nevada economy.”

The state is working to diversify the economy — which has relied on agriculture, mining, hospitality and gaming — and increase the number of companies focused on advanced manufacturing, health care, information technology and renewable energy.

“Those are industries that require more than a high school diploma. And so we are in need, frankly, of a different kind of workforce,” he said.

THE ‘NEW’ ECONOMY

To create that new workforce, the governor’s office of economic development has devised ways for companies, including Faraday Future, to tailor the education system, both K-12 and higher education, to their needs.

Under a program called Workforce Innovations for a New Nevada, Faraday Future is working with the College of Southern Nevada and magnet high school Southwest Career and Technical Academy to create an assessment and training program in which students will receive industry-recognized credentials and customized training that meets the needs of Faraday.

The governor’s newly created Office of Workforce Innovation is working with the education system and companies involved with advanced manufacturing, information technology and health care to create certificate programs and other pathways for students within the K-12 and higher education system to gain industry-specific training and skills.

“For example, I’m working on the education pathway right now with the Department of Education and Higher Ed,” said Manny Lamarre, who heads the Office of Workforce Innovation.

“If a student says, ‘I am interested in being a teacher,’ in ninth grade (or at any point in K-12), how can we get them certain experiences right now that can go toward earning credit that goes toward a degree to being a teacher?”

In creating more certificate-types of career pathways, Nevada is mirroring a national trend. More community colleges and universities across the country are offering certificate programs, as students can boost their careers, or gain a more in-depth exposure on a topic without having to wait several years — and in many cases with several thousands of dollars of debt — to get a full degree.

The time it takes to earn a credential in fast-moving fields, like information technology, is an added challenging in four-year degree programs. By the time a student finishes their degree, a lot of what that student has learned has been superseded by new technologies and problem-solving methods.

UNLV has 36 certificate programs. Depending on the career path, a certificate program might even be able to replace a four-year degree.

“It depends on the job. They (a company) might be looking for a specific skill set, maybe programming, or something else that you might be able to do through a non-degree program. But they would not want to hire someone, more than likely, to be their accountant that didn’t have a degree in accounting,” Martin said.

But there is room for the university to step it up with these certificate programs, he added.

“One of the biggest long-term issues that UNLV has to overcome is developing corporate relationships that allow us the opportunity to develop other programs in different (more high tech) areas,” Martin said.

Lamarre and his team are expanding the concept further by introducing more certificate and credentialing programs into high schools. The Office of Workforce Innovation is also coordinating with the local workforce development board to ensure that people outside of the traditional education system have access to resources and training in these emerging industries.

A TESTING GROUND

In the state’s efforts to innovate and address its workforce challenges, the University of Phoenix sees an opportunity for an experiment in Las Vegas as well.

“We are changing the way that education is delivered, and we are coming to Vegas to be our prototype location for that,” said Ruth Veloria, executive dean of the University of Phoenix’s school of business.

The University of Phoenix is opening the RedFlint Experience Center in Las Vegas on Oct. 13. The center, located in downtown Las Vegas in the Bank of America Plaza building, will offer seminars and classes, like basics of business plan writing and basic financial planning; access to technology, software and mentors; and a standard accelerator program focused on the hospitality industry.

“We will have things in shorter bites, so people can start to explore and experiment with careers before they overcommit to the education,” Veloria said. “They can start to learn in a couple of hours, in a one-day seminar, or in a week seminar, and then eventually move into certificates and degrees, if that’s the right thing. We are shortening the time (and cost) to get a competency that is valued in the workplace.”

RedFlint is looking to work with UNLV to share faculty and resources and is looking to work with the Clark County School District to boost student interest in technology.

“It all has to play a role,” Erquiaga said. “The incubators, hands-on projects, demonstrator projects, project-based learning at an adult level — we will need a lot more of that as well.

We’ll always need academic course work … but, in this economy there is going to be a lot of that need for incubators and technology-driven training — that might mean a certificate, or it might mean a degree.”

Contact Nicole Raz at nraz@reviewjournal.com or 702-380-4512. Follow @JournalistNikki on Twitter.

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