Nurses, welders and machinists will be some of the newest certified professionals to come out of St. Charles County higher education.
As soon as next school year Lindenwood University will launch a nursing degree program and St. Charles Community College will offer certification in manufacturing. The expanded offerings come at a time when both fields are growing and thirsty for applicants with sturdy credentials.
"We definitely want any new program we can get that's a reputable program," said Mary Frey, vice president of nursing at SSM St. Joseph Health Center in St. Charles. "We're thrilled to have them in the community."
Lindenwood's nursing program will be housed in a Dardenne Prairie building formerly occupied by Barat Academy. University President James Evans said plans to offer degrees in health sciences have been in the works for years.
"In the past two years we had a real influx of telephone calls and face-to-face inquiries about whether we had certain health science programs," he said. "When the former location of Barat Academy went up for sale ... it was the trigger we needed."
Nursing degree completion programs will begin next fall. Students who have completed a two-year degree at a community college or who have licensure are qualified for entry in the program that will earn them a bachelor of science in nursing. Lindenwood potentially could offer a four-year bachelor of science and graduate degrees in nursing in the next two or three years, Evans said.
Evans said Lindenwood has "engaged" a full-time dean of nursing, but will not identify who until the candidate announces their departure from an area institution. The new dean and the school will work to recruit instructors next month. Evans said the school should have no problem recruiting students.
"We anticipate three or four dozen enrolling in the first year, and then eventually getting up as high as 80 to 100 students at any one time," Evans said. Further down the line, Evans said the school could add other degrees in occupational therapy or even radiology, but no official plans have been made.
The program comes at a time when jobs in health care are booming. In the past year more than 290,000 jobs were added in the health care sector, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Frey said Lindenwood's program will add to the steady stream of new nurses St. Joseph receives from SCC. She hopes Lindenwood's program will increase the number of BSN nurses on her watch. Currently, 30-35 percent of nurses at St. Joseph Health Center are BSN prepared.
"We're encouraging all our nurses to get their BSN," Frey said.
St. Charles Community College also will expand its course offerings. The college received $1.4 million of a $9 million grant provided by the U.S. Department of Labor to expand manufacturing training at nine of Missouri's community colleges. Part of a statewide effort to increase Missouri's skilled manufacturers, SCC will use the funds to offer training for welders and certified production assistants.
"Missouri community colleges play a critical role in the manufacturing workforce that Missouri needs to maintain its status as a strong manufacturing state," said Zora Mulligan, executive director of the Missouri Community College Association. "This grant will allow us to train significantly more Missourians for those jobs."
SCC will train students at off-campus locations on modules that will prepare them for scenarios they might encounter on the job. SCC formed its programming based on feedback from the community and manufacturers in the region, said Chris Brietmeyer, SCC vice president for academic and student affairs.
"The message we got was they consistently have jobs, but people aren't trained," he said.
Mulligan said a few factors lead to the skills gap in manufacturing's current and potential workforce, including a retiring workforce and evolving technologies.
"One problem we have in manufacturing is a pretty high turnover or sometimes hiring someone who doesn't have the competencies needed to be successful on the job," she said.
Students in these programs will not only learn valuable skills, but also get the credentials to back them up. SCC manufacturing students will sit for exams or execute skills sets to earn nationally recognized certifications.
"It gives employers a guarantee that you are going to be able to do the job they are asking you to do," Brietmeyer said. "When a student comes through our program they'll be ready to go with skills sets walking through that door on the first day."
Besides giving students the leg up in the job market, Mulligan said a certified manufacturing workforce could attract new business to the state.
"We have manufacturers who are interested in locating in Missouri or continuing to operate in Missouri. What they need to make that happen are skilled workers," she said.