November 4, 2010
Seasoned professionals benefit from advanced training programs customized by Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering extended education team
The nation’s deep recession brought a big wave of job losses for those Mary Wolf-Francis calls “the unlikely unemployed.”
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“These are people with decades of high-level work experience who have advanced degrees,” says Wolf-Francis, business liaison for Workforce Division of the city of Phoenix Community and Economic Development Department. “They are not the people you expect to see squeezed out of the work force so rapidly in such large numbers, but they have been.”
Earlier this year city administrators decided to use a portion of American Reinvestment and Recovery Act funds to help put out-of-work professionals back into the employment pipeline.
Phoenix officials turned to the Global Outreach and Extended Education (GOEE) office of Arizona State University’s Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering.
Assistant dean Jeff Goss, who directs GOEE, and Amy Sever, the manager of professional and executive programs, helped the city organize two intensive education programs designed to arm students with valuable skills that would give them an edge with potential employers.
They recruited ASU faculty and outside business consultants to teach two sessions of a two-week Lean Six Sigma Green Belt program and one session of the more advanced four-week Lean Six Sigma Black Belt program.
Intense immersion in business analyses
The programs focus on methods of analyzing business systems, services and operations with the aim of organizing and managing companies more effectively and instituting cost-efficiency practices.
This past summer more than 50 adult students participated in one or more of the Green belt and Black belt sessions.
The instructors were industrial engineering professors Douglas Montgomery, John Fowler and Dan Shunk, along with Gary Waissi, a professor in the College of Technology and Innovation’s Department of Technology Management, Connie Borror, a professor in the Division of Mathematical and Natural Sciences in the College of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences, and business consultants James Strickland and Russell Elias, both of whom also teach at ASU.
Their students were schooled in sophisticated decision-making and problem-solving processes, formulas for measuring productivity and customer-service effectiveness, and statistical analysis techniques.
In addition, they learned ways to identify the sources of fiscal and operational waste and how to eliminate it, and how to make fundamental changes in business management and organization take hold.
The program earned the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering and its extended education office an award from the Phoenix Workforce Connection for its contribution to the city’s job-training and economic-recovery efforts.
Key to career opportunities
The more poignant recognition came from the students, and from the companies and organizations that benefitted from the service projects students performed as part of their Lean Six Sigma Program training.
"Completing 240 hours of classroom instruction for the Green Belt and then the Black Belt programs was intense.” says Joseph Behrens. “But the teachers' expertise and superb instruction allowed me to learn the practical applications of advanced methodologies, and the coordination and support from the city and university staff provided a strong platform for these classes to be a success."
Behrens already has a bachelor’s degree in business management and human resources, and a master’s degree in higher education administration. Still, the Lean Six Sigma program “strengthened my previous education in operations, training and leadership by providing me the tools and capabilities for many career opportunities.”
For out-of-class projects designed to apply classroom lessons, Behrens worked with a small team of fellow students on strategies to reduce costs while improving patient services at two large hospitals.
As a result, he’s now pursuing an entrepreneurial venture, attempting to organize a network of consultants to provide services to the health care industry.
Powerful skill set
Cindy Beck completed both the Green Belt and Black Belt programs, and joined student teams that did business analyses of two distinctly different types of organizations –Avnet, a distributor of electronics components, and Native American Connections, a behavioral health services organization.
“These experiences showed me that all businesses have room for improvement,” she says. “The skills I learned are always going to be valuable because I know that they can be applied in almost any job and for any type of company.”
Paul Albrecht says “I knew I couldn’t lose by having this [training program] on my resume. I would have taken this even if I’d had a job.”
For his outside class project he worked with a student team that evaluated a software development company. “We were able to bring some structure to the operation,” he says. “I think we gave [the company] some certainty about its longevity.”
Albrecht has a master’s of business administration and degrees in biology and physics. He’s a seasoned professional in the high-tech industry. Still, his business education “took a quantum leap” in the Black Belt program, he says.
“We all came out wiser about how the business world really is today. You have to understand the global economic game,” he adds. “The ASU people did a superb job. The skill set we learned is so powerful that it gives you hope.”
Something of real value
Albrecht has since started a job with an aerospace company as a quality engineer. He says his newly acquired skills will be put to work.
“They told me they were hiring me not just as another worker, but as someone who has the ability to change their business culture for the better,” he says.
ASU professor Borror mentored student project teams. “You could see their confidence growing” as they applied what they learned in the classroom to actual businesses, she says.
“In the end, I think they got a high quality of training that would have cost much more had it been provided anywhere else,” Borror adds, “and the companies whose operations they evaluated got something of real value.”
One student team did an operational assessment for A New Leaf, a human services agency with facilities 25 facilities throughout the greater Phoenix area.
“They went beyond simply defining our systems and processes. They gave us concrete recommendations for improving efficiency that we could wrap our arms around,” says Torrie Taj, A New Leaf’s executive vice president for resource development.
“Now we have a flow chart to follow for handling all our work processing contracts [with service providers], and we’re getting better bang for the buck,” she says.
Getting a professional edge
City of Phoenix business liaison Wolf-Francis credits the ASU Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering extended education administrators for customizing the Lean Six Sigma Program training so that its scope covered skills applicable to everything from manufacturing and service industries, to health care, financial and accounting companies and more.
“Companies today are specifically looking for people with this training,” she says. “Earning [Lean Six Sigma certification] certification will set these students apart and bring their resumes to the top of the pile.”
More than 15 percent of the students landed jobs not long after participating in the program.
“This has been one of the most successful job-training programs the city of has ever done,” Wolf-Francis says.