MSU-B program trains workers

Russ Cherry ran two fast-food restaurants in Salt Lake City before selling them to move back to Billings. He remembers workers tossing coins into a tip jar rather than giving them back to customers, probably because they couldn’t count back change correctly.

Of The Gazette Staff

Cherry is now the marketing manager for a new program at Montana State University-Billings that trains service and retail workers. In July, the U.S. Department of Labor awarded MSU-B $500,000 to set up the two-year training program.

In government jargon, the training must go to "incumbent workers," a person who is currently employed, Cherry said.

The federal grant is investing big bucks in Billings-area workers.

"We’re putting 100 people through this program in two years. The total invested is $5,000 per person, so they really are investing a lot of money per person for training," he said.

Randy Rhine, dean of the College of Professional Studies and Lifelong Learning, said the program is a joint venture with the College of Technology.

"The training is really state-of-the-art," he said. The curriculum is research-based and has been tested at major corporations around the country.

The training program runs four months and the college is recruiting businesses that will commit one supervisor and preferably four workers for the classes. The students take three hours of course work per week, some of it in a classroom, some on-line and some face-to-face with a job coach, who helps the company implement the training.

This training program is different from others at Bozeman’s MSU or the University of Montana in Missoula because it starts from the ground up, Cherry said. It asks workers what skills they want that will also benefit their company.

Then the Yellowstone Development and Training Cooperative program at the College of Technology, 3803 Central Ave., does a customer satisfaction survey. After the program is completed and the company has had two months to implement the changes, another satisfaction survey is conducted to measure progress.

The curriculum for the program was developed with the help of a seven-member advisory board made up of local employers discussing training needs. So far, two businesses have signed on for the training program, Head Start and the Rimrock Inn.

Four full-time instructors are running the program, in addition to their other duties.

A lack of critical job skills is a recurring complaint among area business owners. One missing talent in many younger workers is the ability to count money.

Jeff Essmann, who owns five Valet Today Cleaners, formerly One Hour Valet, and one Town & Country Cleaners, said he thinks math skills have declined because kids are allowed to bring calculators to class.

The schools "perceive that the work skills have changed, that those skills are no longer needed," Essmann said.

Even cash registers that tell workers how much change is coming aren’t sophisticated enough for some workers. So, Essmann is installing software in his shops that tells clerks exactly how many quarters, dimes and nickels to give back.

Other training programs using federal or state money also are used by local business owners.

Jim Markel, owner of the Red Oxx in Billings which makes duffel bags, backpacks and sporting gear, said he’s used training on manufacturing skills offered by MSU.

"We don’t have a lot of factories here, so I’ve only got one employee out of my five who worked in a real factory outside of Montana. The rest of us had to wing it," Markel said. "That’s important because a lot of money gets eaten up and your business could fold while you’re on the learning curve."

Training under the Yellowstone Development and Training Cooperative will focus on three areas: customer service, communications and business operations. The first classes begin in November and the classes are staggered. A supervisor takes the communications program first, so he or she will be up to speed when the employees finish the class.

Cherry also stressed that the U.S. Labor Department program is aimed at helping existing businesses, not helping workers find other jobs.

"The purpose is to improve employee skills and improve that business. Our studies show a well-trained employee is a happy employee who stays in a position longer," Cherry said.

Jan Falstad can be contacted at (406) 657-1306 or at [email protected]

Copyright © The Billings Gazette, a division of Lee Enterprises.

Sorry, we couldn't find any posts. Please try a different search.

Leave a Comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.