One of the largest community colleges in the U.S., Dallas College educates more than 100,000 students a year and serves as the backbone of workforce development in North Texas.
Formerly seven separate colleges, the various entities coalesced to form one school in July 2020 while continuing to operate seven campuses, 11 centers and three administrative offices.
How critical is Dallas College to the needs of employers in Big D? Consider this: The school spends about half a billion dollars a year and offers associate degrees and career/technical certificates in more than 100 fields of study. Dallas College, founded in 1965, also provides a four-year bachelor’s degree in early-childhood education, and is developing a bachelor’s degree in nursing.
Health-care providers turn to Dallas College for nursing graduates. Restaurants and other food servers turn to Dallas College for chefs trained in the culinary arts. Logistics, robotics, information technology and cloud computing are all areas of specialization in which Dallas College excels. Many of the best workers in Texas emerge from these programs each year.
Pyeper Wilkins, vice chancellor of workforce and advancement for Dallas College, says that her No. 1 job is to “make sure that we are building a talent pipeline for our employers.” To do that, Dallas College must remain nimble and pivot to meet the needs of employers.
“The workforce situation has changed in the past two years,” says Wilkins. “There has been a tremendous rate of change from the time we went into the pandemic until now, forcing dramatic shifts in the workforce. It accelerated how we use technology for everything. In some cases, we literally had to change what we were doing overnight.”
Virtual learning became standard, as did flexible work schedules. Dallas College created an ecosystem that engages all educational partners, including K-12 public school districts, four-year university partners, and local employers who hire DC graduates.
We’ve built pathways based on labor market data and community conversations.”
— Dr. Pyeper Wilkins, Vice Chancellor of Workforce & Advancement, Dallas College
“We’ve removed the transition points for students to make it easier for them to stay engaged and know that there’s a job for them at the end of this road,” says Wilkins. “We’ve built pathways based on labor market data and community conversations.”
Using Big Data in Big D
Outcomes include the launch of the Labor Market Intelligence Center, which identifies opportunities and trends in high-growth industries and jobs and estimates the gap between labor market demand, available training, and existing or future workers. Another outcome is the Employer Resource Center, a one-stop shop for employers. The ERC connects students and graduates to careers and provides access for employers to a skilled talent pool.
Taking advantage of these resources are folks like Travis McCain, vice president of sales for Frozen Food Express (FFE) Transportation Services Inc. “We’ve been partners with Dallas College for at least five years,” he says. “This has been a tremendous benefit.
We’ve used their academic instructors and curriculum to enhance our employees’ knowledge. We’ve also worked directly with the college to define the transportation sector.”
FFE employs 450 truck drivers in Texas, and the firm relies heavily on Dallas College for training. “Just 10 minutes from our office is the Cedar Valley campus of Dallas College,” McCain says. “We’re able to get great employee engagement. We can use the college for on-site training. We do workplace ethics training, customer service training, communications training, etc. It all drives home what we’re looking for in our workforce.”
With an estimated nationwide trucker shortage of 85,000 to 90,000 drivers, McCain says the resources of an engaged training partner like Dallas College are needed now more than ever. “The driver shortage is absolutely real,” he notes. “We began to experience that in March 2020. That’s why we operate our own drivers’ academy. We take in students who want to become professional truck drivers. We put them through a nine-week course. The first three weeks are classroom training, and then they receive their CDL.”
He adds that “we are 1,000 percent satisfied with the quality of work of Dallas College graduates. The school has been a tremendous asset.”
Lending a Hand to Small Business
Community partners feel the same way. Dinah Marks, councilwoman for the City of DeSoto, says that the Cedar Valley campus of Dallas College “has been very instrumental in moving our Customer Service Excellence Initiative forward. It is an initiative that supports small businesses by providing them with necessary tools to not just survive but thrive in this ever-changing business environment as a result of COVID-19. To date, with Dallas College’s assistance, we have conducted four training sessions, totaling 35 small businesses. One of our businesses was so excited that a part-time job was offered to one of our high school scholars to assist with marketing.”
Shane Shepherd, economic development director for the City of Lancaster, says that Dallas College “is an innovative partner in workforce development and training. They will develop specialized training programs for local companies; take the initiative to expand training in areas where they forecast new opportunities; host educational conferences that highlight emerging trends in environmentally sensitive technology; and even bring customized training to local employers’ doorsteps with a mobile training facility.”
Shepherd offers a success story to prove it. Texas Nameplate moved from Dallas to Lancaster about six years ago and used Dallas College to train the company’s hires. As a result, the firm was able to cut costs through reducing paper consumption, recycling chemicals and saving energy.
“Also, we landed $1.4 billion in economic development projects last year,” adds Shepherd. “We could not do that without Dallas College.”