Employers get buried trying to stay current with changing technology and trends. Maybe they need workers who speak Spanish, use the latest Excel software or are knowledgeable about the latest sexual harassment guidelines. Almost a year ago, Manatee Community College opened its Center for Innovation and Technology (CIT) to give area employers a new resource for keeping pace with today's changing workplace environment.

Employers can utilize the CIT's Institute for Workforce Development Services to train existing staff, rather than replace them. The result? More cost-effective, efficient and competitive workplaces.

Centrally located between Manatee and Sarasota counties at Lakewood Ranch, the $4.7-million facility includes high-tech classrooms and state-of-the-art training facilities, from lecture and seminar space to computer rooms for software and graphics training courses. In some cases, however, circumstances prevent a company or government agency from sending its employees to the CIT. Not a problem, says Dr. Tom Davenport, director of Workforce Development Services for MCC. "We simply bring our resources to them. In fact, about a fourth of what we do is out in the community."

Sysco Foods, a Palmetto-based corporation employing 645 people, brings the Center to its headquarters for computer software training. "We have several shifts and employees that live in remote locations, so having the training here works well for us," says Debbie Kump, Sysco's director of human resources.

The City of Sarasota also takes advantage of the Center's outreach services. "It allows us to meet our changing needs without changing or adding staff," says Linda McKinney, deputy director of human resources for the city. "The CIT provides several supervisory training courses, such as sexual harassment policy education. Because we also serve a diverse population here in Sarasota, we utilize Spanish language classes to help our employees who need to have bilingual capabilities." McKinney says that the city also uses the CIT for Word, Excel and other ongoing software training classes. "For us, the Center functions much like a good consultant does."

And that's precisely the way Davenport has shaped the Workforce Development Services program. "We like to be proactive, to go into an office and listen to what they have to say, then survey what they really need." For instance, says Davenport, a company may believe they need a telephone etiquette class to improve poor customer service, "when what they actually need is a grammar class."

Davenport spends several days a week "on the road," marketing the CIT's capabilities among public and private entities from Palmetto to Englewood. "It's our job to look into our crystal ball and show business and government what the future holds and what they will need from us to prepare themselves for success."

Although MCC is a state-funded institution, CIT is expected to generate enough revenue to be self-sufficient, says Davenport. Custom and contract training services for businesses and government currently bring in about $250,000 annually, and that figure is expected to grow as the community grows. Fees vary, according to the service provided, the size of the class and whether the company comes to CIT or CIT goes to the company.

In addition to Davenport's Workforce Development Institute, The Center also comprises the Institute for Continuing and Community Education, which offers a variety of college credit courses and noncredit personal and professional development classes. A Traffic Safety Institute and a new Small Business Development Center are housed there, as well.

CIT facilities include a 156-seat high-tech auditorium, a corporate training classroom with flexible chairs and five traditional training classrooms. Rooms are equipped with imbedded VCRs and DVD players, teacher stations, and Wall-Talker Boards that enable instructors to write directly over screen-projected images. A classroom specially equipped for distance learning enables one instructor to teach classes on all three MCC campuses (Bradenton, Venice and Lakewood Ranch), allowing the college to fill classes. There's a complete AutoCad laboratory and four computer classrooms wired with new flat screen desktops and color printers. Recently the CIT opened its new ACT Center, which conducts specialized and sometimes classified testing services, such as that required for airline security positions, online.

For more information about the Center for Innovation and Technology, contact Linda Harrington at Manatee Community College, (941) 752-5690 or e-mail at [email protected].

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