Cultivating Companies and Communities

A forum where small businesses can tune in to find out the answers to their concerns, gather insight from experts, and discuss how the current environment impacts our communities. Brought to you by the SBDC at LCCC in association with the Lorain County Chamber of Commerce.

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The Next Normal With Dr. Marcia Ballinger

In this premiere episode, Tony and Lisa are talking to Dr. Marcia Ballinger, the president of Lorain County Community College, about the changing work-force and how industries are adapting. We talk about educational institutions and their ability to keep up with new expectations for virtual learning, new programs for skilled laborers, and what the future of business will look like.

For more information, you can contact Dr. Ballinger at [email protected]

To learn more about the SBDC visit https://www.lorainccc.edu/business/sbdc/

And The Lorain Country Chamber of Commerce at http://www.loraincountychamber.com/

Lisa Hutson:
We all know that times are changing. And with the onslaught of COVID-19, they are changing more quickly.

Tony Gallo:
Add to that an aging workforce that is ready to retire, businesses of all types are facing a dramatic labor shortage. Business and industry is recalibrating in response to our new normal.

Lisa Hutson:
What new roles will emerge? And what kind of new skills will be required to address this unparalleled disruption?

Tony Gallo:
Can educational institutions keep up with the ever-changing ways of how we do business?

Lisa Hutson:
In our premiere episode of Business Fluent, we are talking to Dr. Marcia Ballinger, President of Lorain County Community College.

Dr. Marcia Ballinger:
There's not a playbook that's already been written, we're writing that playbook.

Lisa Hutson:
Good afternoon. We are really excited to have Dr. Marcia Ballinger with us. So Dr. Ballinger, why don't you tell us a little bit about your role and what you do with Lorain County Community College?

Dr. Marcia Ballinger:
Thank you so much, Lisa. It's a pleasure to join you. My role at Lorain County Community College, for the past four years, I've had the pleasure of serving as president, but have had a three decade career at Lorain County Community College, having been involved and engaged with workforce and economic development throughout my career. So very excited to have an opportunity to have a conversation today.

Lisa Hutson:
In your role, you really have your finger on the pulse of what's going on with workforce development and the future of work. What have you seen as the impact of COVID-19 on the workforce?

Dr. Marcia Ballinger:
I think as we've dealt with the months and months of the pandemic, the rapid pace of acceleration that is occurred throughout this time and that need for innovation, flexibility, agility, and re-imagining what workforce is and how our employers engage with the workforce has never been more profound. Never would we have imagined now this new world where we were planning for the future of work of what would it look like in 2025? What would it look like in 2030? That is now here, the gig worker, which we know is one workforce that is continuing to expand as entrepreneurs, individuals work for themselves. It is, I think on steroids, like it's never been before. And that ability to not only work remotely, but to reimagine and rethink and reinvent what does the world of work look like.

Dr. Marcia Ballinger:
And I think one of the things that the pandemic has done has really removed barriers that we thought were there, whether they truly were there or where we believed that they were barriers. And so I can speak just from a higher education perspective, we're in the business of educating students and creating talent for employers. And so when we had to move everything remotely, there were some courses or programs that previous to the pandemic, we would not have imagined how could we even do that. Then enter the world of simulations and computer programming and different types of data analytics and software, and lo and behold, we were able to shift everything that we do.

Tony Gallo:
It's so important, at least in my mind, for this to come almost from the top-down in these businesses. In other words, I think the businesses that are really going to succeed or bounce back the fastest from COVID-19 and the changes are ones that have been proactive that have actually made some really difficult decisions early on in the face of uncertainty. And they're already doing what maybe they weren't planning on doing for a number of years. Is that correct? I mean, I'm assuming.

Dr. Marcia Ballinger:
I think that is absolutely correct. When we look at some of the research that was already underway, companies, organizations that I think have a culture and values, and as you said, leadership throughout the organization, that really does unleash that power to innovate. It's never been more critical than it is now. We know that there are some businesses that will not survive in post-pandemic or during the pandemic. And yet, there will be that emergence of new ones, or I think that opportunity for leaders to engage at all levels within that organization to help to create whatever those new opportunities are. It may be pivoting from what the product was that the company was either creating or the service that it was delivering it, but we see all examples of that throughout our communities, throughout the world. And it really changes the game.

Dr. Marcia Ballinger:
When I think about our vision 2025 that we completed about a year and a half ago, and now are refreshing again, one of the outcomes of our stakeholder engagement was for how could our community and region become the talent destination? Well, now when you think about talent for the world of work and the new world of work, we can have gig workers, we have entrepreneurs, small businesses, whoever they are, working for anyone anywhere but residing in Northeast Ohio and residing in Lorain County. I think that's one of the major shifts.

Lisa Hutson:
I think that's very true. And I really think when you look at younger generations and the younger workers, they're really receptive to that idea. Even now my daughter, she went and worked out of Asheville, North Carolina for a while because she's working from home now. Home can be anywhere, right? I think we'll really see those younger generations grasp that concept very quickly and thrive in that environment.

Tony Gallo:
I'm kind of anticipating that across the board, all these businesses and higher education, everybody's going to have to take a hard look at their HR department and what is in those HR booklets in regards to working from home or how you do your work and what is considered across everything because I think it's just going to be so different.

Dr. Marcia Ballinger:
I think you're absolutely right, Tony. There's not a playbook that's already been written, we're writing that playbook as we're experiencing all of this. Certainly, there've been best practices where there may be remote work or different models, but this really just flips it on its head. Again, if I go back to just our experience here at Lorain County Community College, prior to the pandemic, we had approximately 20% of our students taking everything online. That's 90% now. When we get to post-pandemic, I think that, whether it's learning styles or work styles or collaboration or teamwork, whatever, it is never going to go back to the way that it was.

Dr. Marcia Ballinger:
And so how do we take the best of what is and continue to build that out. That creates a competitive advantage for the employee as well as the employer. And I think we're going to also, to your point, Lisa, when I think about kids coming out of K-12, having experienced all of this remote learning now, how their worlds are going to even reshape what we are doing in the next five years, it's not only the digital competencies, but I think the engagement levels are very different. And then the business models totally change with it.

Lisa Hutson:
So with all these changes going on, what do you think, not only LCCs role, but higher education's role in general is to lead and address these workforce changes, culture changes, what do you see our role as?

Dr. Marcia Ballinger:
I think community colleges are the solution to so much of this throughout the country. And we're very fortunate here in Northeast Ohio to have, I think, four of the best community colleges in the nation. We really are that glue, if you will, between our local communities and the employers, and then looking at it regionally to not just respond to, but help to design with. And that means having the employers at the table with us as we're redesigning curriculum, that's been a hallmark of Lorain County Community College that we're designing with their end in mind. And now they're co-creating with us. I anticipate and expect that we will see a great deal more in that learn and earn connection directly to jobs, micro-credentials, badging, certifications, industry-recognized credentials, and how that fits into degrees, but in much more flexible ways that not only promote the accessibility to us in the curriculum, but that also becomes part of that redesign process together.

Tony Gallo:
When you think about it, Lorain County Community College and all the community colleges are really the right size and have the ability to pivot a lot faster than some of the larger four year institutions, because you guys you know your neighborhood, you know who's here, you know who needs help, you're working with them on a daily basis. And I don't want to say that this was a good thing for community colleges, but when you think about it, it really has shown the vitality and the need and how necessary community colleges are to the workforce, to students, to communities and everything else. I truly think that this is going to be a really good thing, that we are so lucky that we have you here and that we have access to so many different things that are going to get us through this crisis and get us on the path for recovery faster than other areas.

Dr. Marcia Ballinger:
Thanks, Tony. I appreciate that. I would also say, and it's working with our partners in the community from the chamber of commerce to the small business development center, to our sector partnerships, the manufacturing partnership to the Lorain County growth. And it is about that localness, community is our middle name. We're very proud that it is our middle name and within community is unity. Together we create that ecosystem and those safety nets and supports and the integration of the entire continuum. If there's ever been a time to lean in hard, it has been now.

Dr. Marcia Ballinger:
I am extremely proud and I have to say this exceeded any of my expectations to see how that team at the college has created more than 20 short-term training certificate programs with industry-recognized credentials, that we were able to offer free of charge to individuals throughout the past several months. And we're going to continue doing that as we have done throughout 2021 as well. But those are only possible because of the collaboration and because of understanding what those needs of our employers really are, and then having the creativity and innovations on campus of our faculty and staff to design this and make it available.

Lisa Hutson:
And I think those very short-term certificates have been one way we've been able to address some of the disproportionate impact on lower wage earners and people of color have been impacted during the pandemic.

Dr. Marcia Ballinger:
That has been one of the most gratifying aspects of seeing the outcomes of the short-term training certificates. We know that many of the individuals who've enrolled in it are those who are from underrepresented populations. In fact, when I looked at our enrollment is about 40% are students of color and they were underemployed or unemployed. When you tie an industry-recognized credential as part of a certificate, that guarantees that that individual has those skills for that job. And the jobs are in areas that we know have meaningful wages. We're also excited that they're part of a pathway. It's not a stop at the end of that, you certainly can. But the idea is to leverage that into then a one-year technical certificate, which can then go forward to an associates degree and a bachelor's degree.

Lisa Hutson:
That's great to be able to see the impact that we're having on someone who comes from, maybe a generational poverty issue and know that they're changing the future of their family legacy. I mean, that's very impactful.

Tony Gallo:
Don't you think it's really going to be up to us to make sure we tell those stories in the correct way to show people that they can learn from other successes and that these are things that have happened. Yes, this was a really bad thing that took place, but look at what happened as a result of that, we've been able to focus on completely forgotten groups of people.

Dr. Marcia Ballinger:
Absolutely, Tony. To your point, the narrative, sharing the stories. We might talk about figures and statistics, but it's the people behind every data point. I meet every other week with students in coffee chats and have about 12 to 15 who sign up and then I send them a link for Starbucks coffee. And then we get on a Zoom. I have been just overwhelmed listening to the stories, but one story you reminded me when you said, it's the stories, right?

Dr. Marcia Ballinger:
One of our students, her name is Danielle. She participated in one of the coffee chats and then she sent me a very, very, very thoughtful, deep email afterwards. And I didn't know the story behind her story. The story behind her story goes something like this.

Dr. Marcia Ballinger:
She came out of the foster system in Lorain County. She was determined that when she left the foster system, that she wanted to become an independent adult. So she enrolled at the time at Lorain County Community College. She's been attending here for 15 years, working off and on to earn her degree. She's had many, many barriers along the way, including a child that had a very, very serious health issues. Her husband became unemployed. They became homeless. She was working at Dunkin' Donuts and thought her career aspirations were to be the manager at Dunkin' Donuts. And she continued to take a class here, a class there. And then she quickly realized that she needed to find an employer where she was going to be able to make a meaningful career for her and her family. And so she came back to Lorain County Community College, just within the past two years, she credits our Advocacy Resource Center, the ARC, for what is getting her to the finish line. She's going to be transferring on into our university partnership.

Dr. Marcia Ballinger:
She epitomizes, for me, our unsung heroes who are our students who have barriers upon barriers, and really to help them discover their career aspirations and goals in their strengths. She serves as a student Senator now, her leadership is extraordinary. Her 15-year journey is coming to an end, but she's discovered herself along the way, we're that launchpad. So whether it's an individual who's currently employed, may be underemployed or it's that individual coming right out of high school or in high school, we truly are there for everyone. And I believe, as I've often said, that every student's dream matters and it's meeting students wherever they are and helping to get them to that finish line, move up that socioeconomic ladder, ensure that our employers have the qualified workforce that they need and that our community thrives.

Lisa Hutson:
After talking about all the great things that are happening in our local learning institutions, how do you think is the best way that maybe a small to midsize business could engage with their learning institution in their community and get involved and get a chance to meet some of those great students that become employers or to help have some impact and input into the processes and programs that are going on?

Dr. Marcia Ballinger:
Yeah, absolutely. I think that it's not just Lorain County Community College that is so interested in engaging with their local employers. That's a hallmark of our community colleges throughout Ohio. I would say that if there's someone who wants to learn more, engage further, I mean, we're certainly happy if they want to get in touch with Lorain County Community College, we could either connect them to, we also partner with all of our 22 other community colleges through Ohio TechNet, of which Lorain County Community College serves as that backbone organization. And we're happy to share our models with the other employers and the other community colleges.

Dr. Marcia Ballinger:
I think we have a tremendous history within Ohio, and again, within Northeast Ohio, of how do we collaborate together? Because we know we're not in it alone, we're in it together. And we truly are at the forefront of the learning, the earning, the partnerships. And I would encourage anyone who's listening, who's interested in learning more to follow up with Lorain County Community College and they can contact my office and I'm happy to put them in touch with whoever they would like to, [email protected], to make it really simple.

Lisa Hutson:
Just have to say, thank you for your leadership. We really see the impact that that has in our community and the positive things that come out of it. So thank you.

Tony Gallo:
We're so lucky here that once I think we get past the health and the safety and the essential services and all that that is just day-to-day banging us in the face, wherever we turn around and things do settle down, what we've got in place is going to be what pushes us. I keep reading instead of the new normal, I keep hearing the next normal. And I like the way that sounds so much better than the new normal. And Lorain County Community College and our community colleges are set to help us finesse our way into the next normal.

Dr. Marcia Ballinger:
Thank you both for your tremendous partnerships. Back with Lorain County Community College, we appreciate your leadership and all that you are doing to make our community stronger.

Lisa Hutson:
Awesome. Thank you.

Dr. Marcia Ballinger:
Thank you.

Tony Gallo:
Coming up in the next few weeks, we'll be looking at topics such as human resources and our changing workforce, how to understand the numbers and what they mean for you, and we'll have a conversation with a group of entrepreneurs.

Lisa Hutson:
Don't forget to subscribe so that you never miss an episode and let us know how we're doing by leaving us a rating and review. Business Fluent is a production of Evergreen Podcast in association with the SBDC at Lorain County Community College and the Lorain County Chamber of Commerce.

Tony Gallo:
Special things to our team at Evergreen for making this possible.

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