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UJ gets input to help tackle workforce shortage

The university held luncheons where business leaders gave input on programs that could help tackle the workforce shortage.

uj meeting polly peterson 042622.jpg
University of Jamestown President Polly Peterson addresses a crowd on Tuesday, April 26, 2022, during a luncheon at Harold Newman Arena.
John M. Steiner / The Jamestown Sun

JAMESTOWN – University of Jamestown officials introduced the UJ Accelerated division to business leaders in the community Tuesday and Thursday, April 26 and 28, and gathered input on ways the university can build programs that support their workforce needs.

“We know there is a shortage of educated workforce or somewhat skilled workforce that I think UJ can help with,” said Polly Peterson, UJ president. “Now we are doing certificate opportunities for community members to reskill and upskill in a way that allows them to immediately enter the workforce or enter a new job and get started from day one, and maybe that is an opportunity for them to earn more or try something new.”

The university held luncheons on Tuesday, April 26, and Thursday, April 28, at Harold Newman Arena where business leaders gave input on programs that could help tackle the workforce shortage.

Peterson said UJ officials use community input in building the university’s strategic plan.

“I think it would be silly of us to throw out ideas and execute them without any input,” she said.

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The university launched the UJ Accelerated division in the fall. UJ Accelerated offers interested parties the opportunity to acquire a certificate in law enforcement leadership, business leadership, cybersecurity, digital marketing and analytics, nonprofit leadership and project management. Through UJ Accelerated, learners who complete the courses will earn undergraduate credits that can be applied to the university’s many degrees and degree-plus programs.

“We have an advantage that we are in the state where the Bank of North Dakota provides funding opportunities for certificate level programs when they are credit bearing, so we worked with them,” Peterson said.

All certificates, other than cybersecurity, are each made up of four courses. Each course is eight weeks in length. If individuals do not want to commit to a full four courses, they have the option of only taking the courses that spark interest.

Peterson said it can be difficult to make a four-year commitment to get a degree but someone might be able to commit to 16 weeks. She said people can improve their skill sets in a short period of time that allows them to vastly improve their job opportunities.

Tena Lawrence, UJ executive vice president, said employers are recognizing the value of certificates.

“That might be for someone who already has a degree but needs a skill,” she said. “It might be for someone who doesn’t have a degree but needs to prove they have the skill.”

Paul Olson, UJ provost, said the courses are structured to have assignments due on Sunday night. He said the university recognized that most learners taking the courses have full-time jobs during the week.

Peterson said someone can complete four courses in one semester.

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“In 16 weeks they are in a job and the jobs are high-paying jobs,” she said.

Kari Newman Ness, president and CEO of Newman Signs Inc., said every company has its own set of needs. She said Newman Signs has a mix of people and lots of different needs.

Unison Bank President and CEO Kelly Rachel noted one of the challenges right now at the Jamestown Public School District is getting bus drivers.

Peterson said the university is having discussions about putting its own school in Jamestown where bus drivers and others can be trained.

“It’s a stretch right now,” she said. “It’s one of those put it on the list, and we can explore it.”

Every business has a need, said Danica Chaput, workforce center manager in Jamestown for Job Service North Dakota. She said there is a large need in health care, written communication is a huge component, and a large number of individuals don’t have basic computer skills.

Peterson said she frequently hears from employers and employees about the need for oral and written communication, which is a subject that people don’t realize is important until they enter the workforce.

“You might excel at finance class or you might have excelled in exercise science or whatever that was, biology courses, but you didn’t really spend a lot of time learning to write or do public speaking and now all of a sudden you are in a position of management,” she said. “A lot of communication is online back and forth, and all of a sudden you really wish you knew where that capital letter or that comma goes or that sentence structure and what that is supposed to look like.”

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Olson said one idea could be for the university to have a subscription or membership service to a writing center where people can learn how to improve their writing.

Masaki Ova joined The Jamestown Sun in August 2021 as a reporter. He grew up on a farm near Pingree, N.D. He majored in communications at the University of Jamestown, N.D.
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