There is a Monty Python sketch in which an accountant (played by Michael Palin) sits down with a vocational guidance counselor (John Cleese), and announces that he wants to be a lion tamer. The counselor suggests to the accountant that he might want to work his way toward that goal, “perhaps via banking.”

That sketch is actually more relevant in the United States today then it was back in 1969 when it first aired in Britain.

That’s because workers today must be more pro-active about arming themselves with skills — whether it’s advanced Excel, Spanish language ability or specialized industry certification like Six Sigma — that both today’s and tomorrow’s employer will find valuable.

It’s no secret that U.S. workers change jobs and employers far more often than earlier generations. Yes, many jobs have been lost to automation, or to Chinese and Indian colleagues. But too many U.S. workers haven’t kept up with technology, have become too specialized or simply need to change careers.

“The old employer-employee relationship isn’t what it used to be,” says Mike Lynch, a career coach with Centennial Inc., a Cincinnati recruiting firm. “You can no longer sit back and wait. There are more and more people taking the initiative, and picking out career coaches who can help them sort through (options) and successfully change industries, or go to another type of career.”

So how do you find the training you need?

Answer: The range of opportunities in the Tristate is breathtaking, ranging from specialized coaches like Lynch, to university-sponsored centers for executive skills, to career tech and community colleges that are tightly focused on the needs of regional industries.

Lynch’s firm, Centennial, matches employers with qualified prospects, but Lynch himself works on sketching out career plans for individuals.

“The bulk of what I do is work with people who are in transition — either unemployed, or proactively want to leave where they are,” says Lynch. “They retain me to work with them to do that, so a lot of what I get involved with is people who want to repackage themselves.”

In other words, many of his clients want to take action, instead of having action being taken upon them. Not surprisingly, many want to be their own bosses.

If a client is buying a business or a franchise, the new skill set needed might be financial training or employee management, Lynch says, and that might point to a university class or executive MBA.

For example, you’d need $800,000 in net worth and $300,000 in liquid assets to buy a franchise for Gold’s Gym, according to the International Franchise Association. But you’d also need a bunch of other skills to be considered for that franchise, such as previous business ownership or unit management experience in retail. Luckily, Gold’s offers executive level training and support, if you can’t find it at home.

Used to be that companies would pay for all kinds of training — leadership skills to MBAs — and some still do.

Corporate training budgets nationwide grew about 7 percent in 2006, which was the largest increase in five years, according to Bersin & Associates research. Businesses cited talent shortages across the board and an increased focus on talent management as the reasons, according to Bersin, a national research and consulting company for corporate learning.

But locally, some see a different trend.

“In the last five years, or so, we’ve really seen a change in what employers are willing to pay for in terms of training and education,” says Rob Snyder of Northern Kentucky University’s Metropolitan Education and Training Service Center (METS). The Erlanger facility is used by Tristate companies to train existing employees in key areas.

“There’s really a lot less interest on the part of organizations to support graduate degree programs, for example, and to some extent, undergraduate degree programs,” Snyder explains. “Organizations want their employees to get skills that they can use right now.”

Leadership development and management education are the largest single program area of spending in corporate training today, the Bersin studies showed — not a surprise, given the need for succession planning, with so many baby boomers retiring in the next decade.

An interesting tidbit: About 30 percent of employee training is happening online, according to ELT, which serves 700 businesses nationwide with compliance training.

Who Will Pay for MBAs?

METS’s Snyder notes that “there is still (employer) support for MBA programs, but I’ll bet it has dropped 50 percent in the past five years.”

That’s born out by recent surveys conducted by the Graduate Management Application Council of prospective MBA students. Those surveys show people were worried about the cost of their MBA and financing options, and also weighed more heavily part-time, executive and online/ distance-learning MBA programs.

Applications to MBA programs had been declining since 2002, but recent GMAC data showed a slightly higher volume. Two-thirds of MBA programs reported an increase in applicants as well.

Many companies, though, still want to have otherwise solid, experienced employees to have that level of education. Snyder says that seven years ago, a number of METS’ clients came to them with a dilemma. The employers said they had a number of promising employees without business degrees or even college educations. These businesses wanted to ramp up those employees’ skills.

These management-quality people “have to create budgets, and projections... or they need to know what the heck goes on in accounts payable,” Snyder recalls them saying. “It’s not intuitively obvious to them, and so we need these people to quickly acquire some business acumen.”

METS responded with a program called MBA Essentials, a 12-week certificate program that covers economics, finance, marketing, human behavior, strategy and more.Employers love it, says Snyder.

Another way businesses try to develop the talent they already have is through the use of coaches.

Laurie Althaus of ActionCOACH, for example, coaches people on salesmanship, networking, customer service, team-building and executive skills.

“I’m the back-up,” says Althaus, to business leaders to help prepare them “to stand in front of their team and say ‘this... is the direction we’re going in.’ ”



Colleges Tweak

Professional Classes

Miami University regional campuses are an example of institutions that offer training programs to both companies and individuals.

Like Snyder at METS, Pat McNab, senior director of Miami’s Corporate and Community Institute, has seen many companies trying to find ways to give their experienced employees new skills.

Management trainees “get there because of their expertise in engineering, or something else other than managing people, and so (their employers want to take) that expertise and polish it off with leadership skills,” McNab says.

Miami’s professional development classes in, for example, Six Sigma Green Belt certification, draw company-paid personnel and individuals taking initiative to get training. Six Sigma is the business strategy program first impended by Motorola in the mid-‘80s, and now in wide use by several companies and corporations.

Certificate and professional offerings at Miami include leadership, banking and computer skills. A person “may have solid Microsoft knowledge, but they want to take it to the next level for web design or Photoshop or things like that,” McNab says.

Sometimes, an employer will pay for these classes.

“You’ll find with non-credit programs it can go either way,” says McNab, “Because sometimes companies will only pay for partial financial aid if it’s something (the employee) gets college credit for. For example ... our 11-week program for human resources a lot of companies will pay for, because that hopefully prepares their employees to be certified at a higher level in the human resources field.”

If you’re really searching for new career options, try a skills/interest assessment like Choices, a computer program that Cincinnati State Technical and Community College counselors use to help people.

“(Choices) has imbedded in it a number of assessments and we use it because it’s... easy to administer,” says Cincinnati State’s John Wagner, who also does good, old-fashioned face-to-face counseling in concert with Choices. He has worked with both recent high school graduates and mid-career workers to hone training opportunities.

Of course, the many co-op programs offered at area colleges and universities, including Cincinnati State, give students a taste of career fields through entry-level positions at local and national firms. Students get paid and earn course credit. “Sometimes they come back and go ‘you know it wasn’t what I thought,’ ” says Wagner. He and the student can then take that experience and adjust curriculum.



OTHER OPTIONS ABOUND

Beyond traditional campuses, there are other options for training. Butler Technology and Career Development Schools in Hamilton, for instance, serves more than 14,500 adult students annually throughout southwest Ohio. New this year are courses in medical assisting, certified EKG technician, phlebotomy and medical math. Additionally, two new industrial programs have been added: industrial welding technology and manufacturing production technician. The Adult Workforce Education program at Butler focuses particularly on adults who are interested in entering the work force or changing jobs. The program provides education in a multitude of career fields and yields graduates who are sought by local and national interests.

Meanwhile, DeVry University in Mason offers master’s and bachelor’s degrees in business and management. DeVry’s career-focused program is for students interested in both attaining undergraduate and graduate degrees. Their state-of-the-art facilities offer spacious classrooms, an information center/computer lab with online access, and a virtual library. Students who wish to work from home can take advantage of DeVry Online courses.

The Indiana Wesleyan University office tower located in West Chester offers adults degrees in business, nursing and education. IWU’s nationally and regionally accredited programs are designed with adult student’s needs in mind. “Employers seek an educated workforce,” notes Cheryl Malone, director of admissions. “We’ve built great partnerships with employers, helping their employees gain skills.” Students register only once for all courses in their program, and books and materials are delivered directly to each student. Classes meet once weekly at a convenient time and location, and degree programs generally take 18 to 24 months to complete.

The ITT Technical Institute Ohio College in Norwood offers technology-oriented, career-driven programs. The program offers courses in the information technology, electronics technology, drafting and design, business and criminal justice.

Great Oaks Institute of Technical and Career Development in Sharonville offers courses in business administration, management, and vocational programs such as aviation, carpentry, air-conditioning repair, computers and food service.

Mount Vernon Nazarene in Sharonville offers a masters of science in management, a bachelor’s in business administration, and bachelor’s programs in accounting and office adminstration.



MORE PROGRAMS TO CONSIDER

The Art Institute of Cincinnati in Sharonville offers an associate degree of applied science in design/computer graphics. The art school typically has less than 100 students enrolled, meaning more personal attention to help students refine their own styles.

The University of Phoenix in West Chester offers bachelor’s, master’s and doctorate degrees in business and related fields.

Warren County Career Center in Lebanon and Kings Mills provides training for area businesses and industries. Customized training is offered in many areas including health careers, information technology and computer software training. WCCC can quickly move an individual through a program — in approximately 9 months to one year — and into immediate employment with the technical skills needed.

Wilmington College opened a new Cincinnati branch in late 2007. The new site, The Landings of Blue Ash off Reed Hartman Highway, results from the consolidation of former campuses in Tri-County and Eastgate. The Blue Ash branch offers degree programs in accounting, business administration and liberal studies. Classes meet once per week for an entire semester, and acclerated courses are offered on weekday evenings and Saturdays.

New satellite campuses seem to spring up all the time: Sinclair College of Dayton now features a Mason program that offers associate of arts degree in communications and in the liberal arts, as well as certificate programs in nurse aide training, clinical phlebotomy, emergency medical technician (EMT) and real estate sales. And at the new Miami University Voice of America Learning Center in West Chester, Miami’s Farmer School of Business will offer a professional MBA program beginning in this spring.

At Wright State University’s new Courseview learning facility in Mason, a weekend MBA program offers twice-monthly classes on Friday evenings and Saturday mornings. The curriculum emphasizes leadership skills to manage innovation, change and technology to achieve strategic business goals, and is taught by the same faculty who teach in the MBA program on Wright State’s main campus in Dayton. “We’re very excited about offering AACSB-accredited MBA programs at (a) state-of-the-art educational facility,” says Monica Snow, director of Business and International Programs at the university’s Raj Soin College of Business. “The program is designed specifically for working professionals. It allows them to focus on their MBA, while at the same time continuing their careers.”



A Manager’s

Cautionary Tale


Despite all these options, surprisingly, finding the resources to update your skills can be difficult — largely depending on what industry you’re in. Just ask David Lukshus.

Lukshus is director of development at RPI Graphic Data Solutions in Cincinnati. In the mid-‘90s, the Philadelphia native parlayed his graphic design success into a management position with Procter & Gamble. From there, he went to a local design firm, and then to an ad agency as a creative director.

In 2001, however, Lukshus found himself out of work. His managerial positions had not been hands-on, so his skills had eroded.

“The first thing I noticed in looking for work ... was that wages had gone down,” says the 50-year-old Montgomery resident. “The era of a creative director that was clearly managerial was over. It was transitioning into a position where the creative director not only managed, but had to (also do design) work.”

To his surprise he could find no continuing education courses to sharpen his skills, although he did find the formal art programs at Cincinnati Art Academy and UC’s College of Design, Architecture, Art and Planning.

While temporarily living in Philadelphia to take care of a family matter, Lukshus found an array of Photoshop and Illustrator classes that, in a short amount of time, jumpstarted his skills. He then worked as a hands-on designer for several years, which ultimately helped him land his current job back in Cincinnati.



A Pro-active Approach

Switching job fields entirely can be somewhat of a sea change, but a career coach like Lynch can be objective in plotting that course and find training resources. He also can help clients network with people already working in their desired industry. But it’s keenly important to have a specific plan, he maintains.

“Employers... are not looking to hire people without skills, who they are willing to train for the long haul. Unfortunately it’s more short term” now, he says.

Skills coach Althaus says employees should ponder a few questions to help figure out what training they need. Questions like: How do I make myself unique in this environment? How do I stand-out show my value?

Lukshus knows that though he’s back in management now — with its higher pay and benefits — he may one day have to return to hands-on design.

“I do worry about that,” he concedes. “Right now I think a lot about what have I learned from that experience in 2001 (and) what I can do now to position myself for the next 10 years. I like what I do (and) I want to be able to work until I’m 60.”