The Montana University System and the State Department of Labor and Industry have been working to prepare students for good-paying and high demand jobs in Montana.

Two of our major efforts were featured at the September Board of Regents meeting at Montana Tech in Butte.

Rev Up Montana

Under the leadership of Great Falls College MSU, Rev Up Montana, which is a coalition of 15 Montana’s state and tribal colleges, have worked together to create new models and opportunities for Montana students to prepare for advanced manufacturing and energy workforce development opportunities. Since Rev Up began four years ago, more than 7,000 students across Montana have been served.

Montana’s colleges have changed how they approach student learning in programs such as welding and advanced manufacturing by integrating nationally recognized industry certifications, plus traditional campus training programs. These credentials positively impact the employability and wage progression of students who earn them along the way to an academic degree.

The Rev Up initiative involved nearly 700 Montana industry partnerships such as Spika Enterprises in Lewistown.

“It’s not always clear how the private sector can or should work with (colleges), but I’ll tell you I’ve been pleased with what we’ve been able to get to over the last few years,” says Tom Spika, chief executive of Spika Enterprises, “I think there is a lot more emphasis on trying to provide what industry needs.”

Success stories include Highlands College efforts with Montana Precision in Butte and Helena College’s growing partnership with Boeing Helena. One notable outcome of the initiative involved a collaboration with the Montana Women’s Prison via MSU Billings City College. In late December, 10 incarcerated students graduated from the prison’s introductory welding program.

“I know I can succeed because I’ve seen the success. I've seen success on the faces of the other inmates in the program” Erin Gravelin, an inmate and Rev Up graduate, said during the ceremony. “I can show you the success in my weld.”

The Rev Up program’s efforts to both redesign curriculum as well as engage workforce navigators and student coaches resulted in a 34 percent increase in student retention and completion in programs such as welding, machining and other advanced manufacturing programs.

Pipeline Report

On Thursday, the Board of Regents received Montana’s first statewide “Workforce Pipeline Report.” This is not only the first in Montana, but likely the first in the entire United States. This effort was led by Montana’s Department of Labor and Industry and supported by the Office of the Commissioner of Higher Education through data sharing and joint-agency analysis.

Why is this report significant? Because sharing data between the university system and the state Department of Labor has given us the opportunity to link multiple data sets including student graduation, wages and projected demand by occupation. This gives employers a look at educational matches; colleges can use it for program planning; and students can look at the return on their investment.

For the university system, this means an opportunity to use all possible available data to benefit both Montana business and industry and the students seeking work in them.

The two agencies have already benefited from the data. We are one of the leaders in the nation with the development of new college-sponsored apprenticeship programs in healthcare, nursing and advanced manufacturing. The Department of Labor is using the data with the State Workforce Innovation Board so they can target resources to benefit Montana’s citizens. We have developed new collaborations with the Office of Public Instruction to create new pathways for high school students planning their next step after graduation.

These partnerships between the Montana University System and other state agencies will result in high quality career paths for our graduates to enter high-wage, high-demand occupations.

The pipeline report concept was first developed with Missoula College UM in 2016. The entire college community used the report as a part of its strategic planning, including program prioritization, planning and development as related to the greater Missoula economy. In addition, the college admissions team is using it as an enrollment and advising tool to help guide students into fields that are in high demand, which students may not have considered.

Partnerships have been essential for these efforts to be successful. The partnership between the Montana University System and the Montana’s Department of Labor and Industry, more than 800 business and industry partnerships, and the development of a shared vision on how we can serve our students and address the growing workforce needs of our state’s business and industry.

Lohn Cech is the Deputy Commissioner of Higher Education for the Montana University System where he is responsible for Academic and Student Affairs for the State’s public institutions of higher education.

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