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Last updated:

January 7, 2000

UW-RF Developing Innovative Adult Program

An innovative outreach program that responds to the workforce development and training needs of business, government, education and non-profit agencies is being developed at UW-River Falls.

The program is being supported in part by a $1.25 million federal Title III grant that was recently awarded to UW-RF. Directing the ambitious program are Professor Jan Hillard, Director of New Program Development, and Professor Neal Prochnow, Interim Director of University Outreach and the Regional Development Institute.

According to Chancellor Gary A. Thibodeau, the activities will substantially build on UW-RF's fundamental mission of providing life-long learning.

"UW-River Falls is the only university in the 7,500 square miles of the St. Croix River watershed, and so it has a special obligation to meet the educational needs of adult learners in this dynamic growth area," Thibodeau said.

Hillard, who directs the Title III project, noted, "The grant greatly enhances the University's capacity to develop and support new programs to meet the region's needs. UW-River Falls put together a very innovative Title III grant and was fortunate to receive monies from this very competitive national grant."

Prior to receiving the Title III award, the University conducted a year-long study that involved the participation of hundreds of public and private firms from across western Wisconsin and the Twin Cities area. The study identified the workforce development and training needs of employees and the interest of employers in supporting life-long learning programs. Hillard said the survey response shows that employers strongly support employee development, training and education at levels above the national average.

The initial outreach focus will be on the counties spanning the Lower St. Croix National Scenic Riverway and communities on the Upper Mississippi. Many of those counties have experienced more than 20 percent growth in the first half of the decade. Accelerating business and industry expansion-with most counties experiencing a jump of over one-third in the number of new employees-also has created needs for post-secondary education in such diverse sectors as high-technology manufacturing, finance, insurance, real estate, and services such as health care and government.

The $1.25 million program will offer an array of new services to the region:

•In response to business and industry, develop new courses, certificates and workshops. Numerous programs are already in the design stage and range in complexity. For example, short courses will be developed in such areas as group systems; employing Geographic Information Systems applications to analyze customers and markets; and marketing communications courses in such areas as building databases for direct mail or marketing, and developing an Internet presence, Prochnow said. A more substantial program in planning is a master's degree in management offered through the School of Business & Economics. That program also will offer short-course certificates in such areas as supervision, leadership, and performance-based government.

•Development of a new Outreach Learning Center. This will include a technology-intensive laboratory through which businesses can request specialized training courses from the University. Some $50,000 will be allocated to create a mobile laboratory through the use of networked laptop computers and central servers that can be brought to the factory or shop floor to teach employees on site.

•The ability for UW-RF to conduct annual market surveys of business and industry to determine which courses or certificates are of greatest need at the moment. Hillard noted the master's of management program was in response to a needs survey of 600 private industry and government agency human resource directors in 21 Wisconsin and Minnesota counties.

•Create a Workforce Development & Assessment Center in the UW-RF Regional Development Institute. This will assist employers to determine their future needs in workforce planning and training. The Center also will provide competency assessment of potential employees for employers as they expand their workforces, and to provide customized training.

UW-RF presently is pursuing a partnership with St. Paul-based Imation, Inc. This high-tech 3M spin-off is seeking short-term training programs for managers and employees. That project will allow UW-RF to access Imation's renowned "Competency Dictionary" database describing the competencies needed to execute those jobs and to assess employee skills status. This project will provide UW-RF with the employee evaluation tools and assessment database to assist other private industries, non-profits and government agencies.

Additionally, according to Prochnow, UW-RF in March will have a new staff member on board to serve as an outreach program manager to work with business and industry as a result of the grant. That person also will oversee coordination of delivering courses through technology, whether through Internet-based learning or the Outreach Learning Center.

An Outreach Assessment Specialist also has been assigned to the program to assist advanced students to fast track their previous education and work experience to earn an undergraduate degree with less time on campus, Prochnow noted.

According to Prochnow, the Regional Development Institute and its Outreach Program are seeking suggestions from businesses, non-profits and government agencies for other potential programs.

"We're looking for ideas for programs or services. We'll talk to anyone," Prochnow said.

Those with proposals can contact Prochnow at 715/425-3256.

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