Workforce training and certification programs are building the future.

Corporations are taking a hard look at the bang-for-their-buck in training dollars. For small business owners and executives, personal development and staying focused remain the keys to successful entrepreneurship.

Those are some of the workplace training trends and issues, according to the experts. Here's a look at how different sectors in manufacturing, corporate management and small business are handling workforce learning and professional development in tough economic times.


The recession has accelerated programs at the Workforce Development Center at Cincinnati State Technical and Community College.

"We are doing cutting-edge work here right now and it's a robust time for us," says Dennis Ulrich, executive director for the school's Evendale-based Workforce Development Center.

The WDC partners with more than 80 companies in the region, now training more than 8,400 people a year and developing several new programs, thanks to state and private grants, federal stimulus money and business leadership.

The recession has accelerated the need for workforce training, especially for incumbent workers as companies plot strategies to emerge from the downturn.

Ulrich remembers a meeting last December with then Gov.-elect John Kasich when he brought along WDC "customers," including representatives from Children's and Christ Hospitals, General Electric and pharmaceutical companies.

Their message for the governor: "How do you upscale incumbent workers to increase productivity so that organizations can create jobs and hire more people," Ulrich says. "There is a lot of focus on unemployed and displaced workers, as there should be. But there also should be a commitment to the growth of incumbent workers so organizations can become more productive and grow their businesses."

Ulrich thinks that the message got across, noting that there have been few cuts in the Ohio budget for workforce development.

"In the past, incumbent worker training has not received the kind of attention it probably should have in terms of government spending. I am beginning to see a refocus in grant funding especially in allocations toward increasing the skill sets of current employees. "

Among the flourishing programs Ulrich oversees at the WDC:

Using federal and local grants, people are trained in medical device industries, and in pharmaceutical and lab skills.

Federal stimulus money helped set up a distance learning program in health information technology, training people in the new requirements for computerized medical records.

A jet engine teardown school for General Electric has trained more than 1,300 engineers at the GE Evendale facility, studying design flaws and improving maintenance. "The whole program provides a different level of skill sets they don't learn in engineering school," Ulrich says.

Green areas continue to be hot, with training programs in solar panel installation and home weatherization.

Ulrich says many WDC programs include certification, which is now the buzzword for workplace development. "It's a quality standard, a metric," he says. "At the end of the day, workers and companies want to see something in hand that adds credibility to what they do. It proves you've mastered the work."

Cincinnati State works with state and industry groups to develop certification standards. Ulrich is working on certification for several fields that currently have no such standards, such as developing a certification for home inspectors, social media marketing and sales skills.

Ulrich points out that the community college is well suited to be in the workplace training trenches. "We are very agile. The curriculum is really determined by the employers to meet their needs. We do whatever the customer requires. If they want us to train at 2 a.m. in a factory, that's what we will do. We can do an accelerated nine-week course for rapid turnaround."


With the economic downturn often causing cutbacks in corporate training and professional development programs, many large businesses are now looking at less traditional learning programs with an eye toward accountability, according to Rosaleena Marcellus, partner with Client Solutions for Global Novations, a Boston-based global leader in corporate learning programs with offices in Cincinnati.

More frequently companies ask: How does training affect the bottom line?

"These days you have to link learning to business strategy," Marcellus says. "Corporations are looking at every aspect of the dollar that goes into training to totally connect it to the overall business strategy."

Marcellus, with more than 10 years in business consulting and training, says training techniques have morphed significantly over the last three years. For example:

"We see a movement toward more distributed learning, especially with increased globalization," says Marcellus. She says companies are getting away from traditional instructor/classroom-based training in favor of a facilitator, or senior employee in the organization, imparting the information.

There is also an emphasis on real-life business situations. As Marcellus puts it: "Long gone are the days of role-playing in the classroom. ' They may ask us to create the content, but it's the employees who really do the work and take it and make it their own and impart the knowledge. It makes it much more connected to what they do as a business."

Not surprisingly, Web-based e-learning is prevalent, even as Marcellus believes the core of learning principles is still the same. She says a newer generation of workers is accustomed, indeed expects, virtual learning, which is becoming more sophisticated. "Especially the use of high-paced graphically interfaced presentations. That used to be confined to military or manufacturing hardware, but now it is being brought into the classroom in everyday corporate America."

Lifelong learning is becoming institutionalized. "The mindset now is: Just coming out of a college or an MBA program does not suffice any more because the world is changing constantly. Employees understand they have to be lifelong learners to stay ahead and achieve a business strategy. It is a huge trend."

That also brings an emphasis on self-learning. "Everything does not have to be pushed through the corporate environment," Marcellus says. "There is knowledge out there readily available because of the Internet revolution."

Innovation is every corporation's goal, according to Marcellus. And it remains a constant process to home in on how to institutionalize that in a corporate environment.

"How do you enable people to be innovative, giving them a structured way of thinking about things in a totally different way?" Marcellus asks. "You have to bring together diverse backgrounds to think about common strategies."

As a result, training courses now come with a prerequisite: "How does learning impact innovation? How does it impact the mindset of every individual to think about innovation with a structural methodology?

"It is not leadership training for the sake of leadership training. It has to be connected," she says.


Training consultants and business coaches all say a recession is the perfect opportunity to reinvent a business or redirect and retrain workers.

In a downturn, that's easier said than done.

"The tendency is to pull back, of course," says Laurie Althaus, a veteran ActionCOACH business coach. "But I tell clients it's a rare chance to be able to evaluate and look at true options. You always hear about companies in a down market who totally turned their business around by thinking a little bit differently and being willing to get out of their comfort zone and take some chances."

Althaus, a 30-year small business owner and licensed business coach, has founded Now & Next, focused on troubleshooting business leadership issues by isolating personal development concerns that may have handicapped an executive or business owner.

Althaus says business leaders perhaps face more distractions than ever. As she puts it: "It's pretty noisy out there." It's easier to get "pulled off course," considering the economic downturn and the fast-paced changes and innovations coming at any executive in the modern business world.

"We all have those times when we aren't thinking straight. The business owner has to be aware it's natural to lose focus. The question is: How do we get back on course, and what kind of assistance do we need to do that? Usually it's finding someone objective to look at the individual and the business."

Her business coaching background has taught her that people need a more authentic approach that directly deals with personal development issues. She has often found that someone's personal problems and life struggles are holding back business success.

"I found a lot of business problems can be cleared up when personal issues are dealt with," Althaus says. "It ends up being a top-down strategy. If business leaders are clear on what they want, then moving that down through the organization can bring huge benefits. "

And, yes, she says the business coaching field is one where the Internet and social media have had a huge impact in delivering consulting services.

"The challenge now in the marketplace is how do you still build the human interaction with the benefit of the technology," Althaus says.

"My group-coaching clients request that we get together regularly because they have built relationships. There is a personal interaction that only happens face-to-face."