Friday, November 9, 2018

Dana Newcomer

Apprenticeship Coordinator

Community College Workforce Alliance (CCWA)

She wore a tiny glittered black hat and a pair of stockings that appeared to have survived a zombie attack. A spider web crossed her desk. It was Halloween and CCWA Apprenticeship Coordinator Dana Newcomer was in the spirit.

Aside from the tiny hat, Dana takes her work seriously. At a time when “community colleges find themselves in a great position to reinvigorate and grow apprenticeships,”* Dana is the perfect person to meet the challenge. Couple her wonderfully quirky inventiveness, creativity, and technical skill with her love of planning, her 12 years as a technology engineering and manufacturing educator, and her master’s degree in project management, and you have someone ready to breathe vigor into a program that’s time has come.

To get an idea of what’s underneath Dana’s tiny hat, when she taught manufacturing enterprise, she expected her students to take charge of their jobs. Their “job” was to follow the design process, to each come up with an idea, do the research, determine the costs and logistics of production, and present their ideas to the class. A vote would be taken and one idea would be mass produced. Her students manufactured and sold laser engraved items, notecard and ear bud holders, they made videos shown at a Film Fest (with ticket sales!), and they were tasked with recreating the school’s floor plan. Students left the class with a clear understanding of how their part fit the whole, and how the whole fit together.

Dana has an exceptional grasp of that concept. To gain a better understanding of the credentialing process she earned her Manufacturing Technician 1 Industry certification (MT1). She is currently working on her Project Management Professional (PMP) certification, one of the toughest and most demanding certifications a planner can achieve. Because she has worked with students and been a technical student herself, she understands the rigors of the process. She knows how to make meaningful connections between companies, student job seekers, and education. What better background to coordinate a growing apprenticeship program?

Apprenticeships have been around for centuries and in the US were once a sure ticket to security and job growth. In most European countries this is still the case with 70% of apprenticeship candidates earning high enough scores on their General Certificate of Education to qualify for four-year universities, but opting instead for entry into apprenticeship agreements. “Nationally [in the US], 87 percent of apprentices find full-time employment, with an average starting salary of at least $50,000—the same starting salary as if they had earned a bachelor’s degree.”* This is the kind of statistic that draws students and companies together, and makes apprenticeship options so attractive.

Unlike internships that seem so popular these days, apprenticeship programs are formal competency-based agreements, and come complete with benchmarks and pay for the apprentice, and must be approved by the Department of Labor and Industry. By the time an apprentice completes a program their promotion is guaranteed. “One of the best things about these programs is their flexibility. They are structured so they can cater to what is needed on the job. In our rapidly changing technical environment, this ability to adapt quickly is key.”

Like the spider web crossing her desk, Dana’s job casts a wide net. She connects with big-name companies like Philip Morris, Rolls Royce, and DuPont to set up their apprenticeships’ educational programs and assists with the process to gain the necessary regulatory approvals. She interviews and counsels potential student-job seekers to determine what programs are the right fit, or gets them started on a pre-apprentice track. She handles funding that pays for classes. She makes presentations to veterans, transitional services, conferences, professional organizations, state organizations involved with unemployment, job fairs – just about anyone, anywhere who could benefit from this life-changing program.

When asked about her goals as CCWA Apprenticeship Coordinator, Dana’s personality and exuberance shine through: “I want to do it all!” In the short time she has been on the job she has been focusing on building a pipeline of skilled employees who don’t just meet the needs for the manufacturing industry, but exceed them. To do this she would like to reach others who could benefit from apprenticeship, gain additional support, and continuously advance and grow the program to adapt to this ever-evolving industry. If it’s anything like her success as a teacher, great things are about to come.

When Dana isn’t crisscrossing Richmond and the surrounding areas talking about the value of CCWA and apprenticeship programs she is involving neighborhood kids in learning to draw – she displays some of their work on her office walls - and enjoys the company of her Pitbull, Athena, and her Boxer, Luna. She also plays video games, her favorite being Skyrim. Her character? Something akin to an orc. “You know,” Dana says with a note of shyness, “video games are valuable, you have to face lots of challenges and complete tasks, just like real life.”

What do you get when a PMP and MT1 meet Halloween and Skyrim? One terrific Apprenticeship Coordinator. 

Welcome to CCWA and Reynolds, Dana.

* Can community colleges reinvigorate apprenticeships? The Fordham Institute, October 24, 2018. A report from the American Enterprise Institute, Jorge Klor de Alva and Mark Schneider.