Workforce development has played a critical role in the success of West Chester's business community. As the region continues to expand, educational institutions are keeping pace with the needs of local companies, including continuing education, evening and weekend hours for working students, online training, and customized education partnerships.

Rapid growth has prompted new programs at existing universities and technical schools, attracted branch campuses from other states, and even sparked the creation of innovative education programs within the business community itself. Offerings range from basic work-related training to fully accredited college business and MBA programs.

"Companies want to elevate the education of their employees," says Brad Grubb, regional director of Indiana Wesleyan University. "The way that relates to performance on the job is very real. You get a more efficient, self-directed employee, and that always adds to the bottom-line performance of a company."

Indiana Wesleyan doesn't limit its instruction to the classroom. In addition to its state-of-the-art facility at Union Centre, the university regularly conducts complete education programs on site for corporate partners.

"Students want to apply what they learn immediately," Grubb notes.

Many business-related degree programs are also available online, both through Indiana Wesleyan and The University of Phoenix. The latter offers concentrated bachelor's, master's and doctoral degrees for adults, and customized training programs for employers. Students can attend classes in the evening and on weekends, earn degrees online, or participate in "Flexnet" programs that combine face-to-face and internet instruction.

The University of Phoenix has also taken a major step toward minimizing the amount of time its working students spend getting an education: the university's entire library is available online.

Butler Technology and Career Development Schools provides a wide range of customized training options for the industrial, healthcare and public safety sectors. Its most recent expansion includes a 45-acre Public Safety Education Complex. "We're very big in diversified industrial training," says Bob Sommers, CEO of the school. "We're the second-largest career technical school district in the state."

Butler Tech's custom training programs include office and computer skills, training for first-line supervisors and middle managers, health careers, and industrial training and safety.

"We offer industrialized training for workforce, including metal fabrication, OSHA training, robotics, hydraulics and pneumatics," says Amy Waldbillig, Butler Tech's Executive Director of Customized Training. "We have state-of-the-art welding, mechanical, electrical, HVAC and PLC [Programmable Logic Computers] labs."

In addition to customized training, Butler Tech offers a full range of custom assessment and testing services, including applicant screening, skill level evaluation, promotion testing, and job profiling.

"Within our public safety umbrella we also offer CPR, confined-space training, EMS training, and self-defense," Waldbillig notes.

One of the newest workforce development resources in West Chester is The SEBC Workforce Academy, founded in 2003. The Academy is in a strategic partnership with Butler Technology and Career Development Schools, Miami University and the West Chester Chamber Alliance.

"It's been an interesting evolution of the education mindset," says Joe Hinson, president of the West Chester Chamber Alliance. "Education is looking at itself today as a business. What [Butler Tech and Miami University] have done instead of building new campuses is to put themselves in a business community."