January 18, 2019
Your Local Advisory Committee, Part II
By Chris Hadfield
Minnesota State Transportation Center of Excellence
In our last edition, we talked about the importance of advisory committees. In this edition, we will focus on the roles in which advisory committees play and some details that can be implemented to help you advisory committee and program gain traction.
Assessment of Program Quality
Did you remember your parents saying to you “honesty is the best policy”? Well, honesty and transparency are actually key indicators of programs that have excellence from their advisory committees. Here’s why.
The community of employers, citizens, parents, students, administrators, and employers all have a vested interest in the success of your program. And, the best way to design and maintain an excellent program is to have input on the design and operation from those stakeholders. Their viewpoints and experiences are diverse, significant, and important. At the end of the day, the teacher(s) are the ones that have to implement changes and decisions. A balanced approach from multiple viewpoints is what is needed.
Unique Education and Training Experiences
We have a lot in common. But, every program is unique and special. I know that sounds cliché, but it’s true. Programs have different locations, different conditions, employers have different customers, and the demographics are different. All accredited programs follow a list of standards to teach from, but in all cases those are the minimum expectations of a program. Listening to your advisory committee and including them in program design will help your students and community of employers.
Here’s an example. Let’s say that your automotive program is in greater Minnesota and is accredited by the ASE Education Foundation (formerly NATEF). You teach the standards outlined in the accreditation and your program is designed for best practices. Your community of employers love it. But, a lot of your students end up doing a little bit of welding when they get out to the real world. Maybe they are welding snow plow brackets back together because it’s snowing right now and you can’t wait for a new one to come in the mail 3 days later. Or, they doing some type of equipment repair where it is specialized and there are no replacement parts. Either way, they are welding. And, there is not a standard for welding in an accredited automotive program.
By having a good advisory committee you open up the conversation for them to say that the student graduates need a 1-2 credit welding class because that’s what this particular community needs. And when you present this information to administration, a curriculum committee, or your program accreditation evaluator, they will all say the same thing. YES! Go for it! Let’s add that 1-2 credit welding course for the students if that is what the employers are saying.
Another example is when an employer says that they need graduates with lots of diesel experience in an automotive program. Maybe that’s because that particular employer has an automotive shop but has a fleet customer with lots of medium and heavy duty diesel trucks. It’s the job of the teacher and administration to listen to this employer in the advisory committee and to understand if it is a large enough of an issue affecting most or all graduates and should be added to the program, or if it is just something unique with that employer.
A few years ago, Lake Superior College’s Automotive Technology program (in Duluth) listened to their advisory committee, which overwhelmingly said that they needed light duty diesel basics. They did the data and research, had an inclusive advisory committee atmosphere, and thus added light duty diesel classes to the program that all students would take.
At Central Lakes College, in Brainerd, there were 2 employers that wanted medium duty diesel in the same program. After listening to the entire group, doing the research, and thinking a lot about it, the college offered short term customized training for those particular employers to get diesel training – because it was not the light duty diesel that an automotive program could deliver and it was a low number of employers that needed it.
By being inclusive, a good listener, and allowing your stakeholders to feel like they are actually part of an advisory committee instead of just there for the meal, you have now answered the call and created an excellent program.
Community Promotion of Program
We all understand that you have to market your program differently and more these days. So, what’s your program’s marketing budget? And, how dedicated is the marketing department at your school to focusing on the unique needs of your program? My guess is that you aren’t extremely happy with either answer.
If your advisory committee members are engaged, excited, on your side, and present at your meetings for more than just the free lunch and the prospect of getting a graduate to work for them, then you have the right chemistry to ask them for help. Employers have a variety of departments and positions and some will have the willingness to provide help.
An example of this is at St. Cloud Technical and Community College, where in their summer camp advisory and planning committee they needed some marketing, graphics, and related help with getting the word out for their camp. Miller Auto Plaza was on that committee and was very engaged. When the committee stated that they really needed help figuring this out, Miller graciously brought in their marketing department and helped out. The word about the great summer camp opportunity got out to the public in the right way and the camp was a success!
Community, Business, and Industry Resources
So you want to teach an excellent program, part of that is getting that new piece of equipment in your lab, but it’s going to cost more than your budget will ever be. And to top it off, even though the students would learn a lot and get great experiences from this particular piece of equipment, you just simply cannot afford it. Or, maybe there just isn’t enough room for it.
Once again, the hero’s on the advisory committee come to the rescue. Weather it is a new hoist, a dynamometer, a tire machine, a scan tool, or something else – no one knows what help you need until you bring it up. And, you have to bring it up in an inclusive and great advisory committee atmosphere. Otherwise, you are just begging for help and complaining when it isn’t there.
Here’s a few examples. At Dakota County Technical College’s Medium and Heavy Duty Truck Technician program, they needed a new scan tool for all of the trucks that were out there. They didn’t have the budget to buy a brand new one, but they do have a great advisory committee. Bosch (formerly OTC Tools) is on their advisory. They listened and made a partnership. Bosch lends them a scan tool each semester, as long as Bosch can switch it out every now and then. They also ask the teachers how it is working, what issues they found, and they look at the data that the school downloaded on the scan tool. By using that data, the business can improve the design of their scan tool. So really, the school is like a test bed for the company. What a great partnership where each entity benefits.
At Central Lakes College in Brainerd, the Automotive Technology program shares a user ID with Mills Ford in Baxter. When the demand isn’t high at the dealership (like when they were replacing air bags and updating vehicles) they let the school sign into Ford’s dealer network with a user name and ID. Having that user name and ID is crucial to teaching the new technologies and properly preparing students for the environment they are entering. If the college had to purchase their own ID, they would have to reduce their supply budget.
At South Central College in Mankato, the Automotive Technology program knew they needed a modern vehicle with all of the sensors, computers, and other technologies installed in order to properly teach their students. Their advisory committee has been saying this for a few years. Recently, they figured out how to get it done. With a mix of funds from Snell Motors in Mankato and leveraged funding from other donations from local employers, the program was able to get a 2017 Toyota Prius purchased for their program. Smaller employers helped by donated smaller pieces of equipment, supplies, and providing other in-kind donations where they could. The large employers provided larger resources. And together, they made it happen.
Is your program credible? That’s kind of a loaded question. Credibility is the ultimate goal of any program. When you have an advisory committee that works, is following most of the things we outlined in this article and using the advisory committee handbook – you will find that your program is credible.
You can gauge your own program’s viability and give it reason to exist when your advisory committee is fully engaged.
If you are still reading this, then you are half way there. You are the hero and you have the resources and capability to create an excellent program because you truly embraced your advisory committee.
Here is the Advisory Committee Handbook that the State of Minnesota created recently. It was created by a group of folks who have experience building and operating excellent advisory committees. The group who wrote this came from industry, high schools, colleges, administration, faculty, and more.
If your school would like some person to person assistance and a partnership to build an excellent transportation program advisory committee, the Minnesota State Transportation Center of Excellence can provide support and partnership.