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Courses of Action


This is the third article in a monthly series examining how area colleges and universities are partnering with local businesses, workforce-development bodies, and other organizations to address professional-development needs in the region. One college will be featured each month.

Jeff Hayden

Jeff Hayden says professional-development initiatives have become an important part of the mission at HCC.

Communication. Teamwork. Networking. Listening.

Jeff Hayden acknowledged that, to many, these sound like buzzwords in discussions about the workplace and how to succeed within it — or about how companies can become more productive and achieve continuous improvement.

But in reality, these are just some the skills that individuals must possess if they want to thrive in their chosen career and move up the ladder within it. And they are the qualities that businesses large and small must stress if they want to prosper in an increasingly global, intensely competitive business climate — and if they want to successfully compete for talent and retain it.

And these are just some of the skill sets — some broad, some very specific — that help define a full roster of professional-development programs at Holyoke Community College (HCC), which Hayden serves as vice president of Business and Community Services.

“Those words, like teamwork and communication, feel like buzzwords, but in reality, those are the places where employee satisfaction and productivity find their nexus,” he said. “It’s really a unique spot where one can see the gain for the company, but also the gain for themselves.”

These touchpoints run through the portfolio of programs at HCC, the Commonwealth’s oldest community college, which include everything from a non-credit “Introduction to Bookkeeping” course to a women’s leadership lunch series; from certificate programs in residential interior design and medical interpreting to two new HR workshops on “Leveraging Assessments with the New World of Work” (more on these later).

In each case, the motivation is the same, Hayden said — to help individuals advance and enable companies to be efficient and productive, and also recruit and retain employees when businesses in all sectors are still struggling to do so.

“We put an emphasis on trying to find those occupational skills that managers, business owners, and professionals need to successfully grow their company, grow their employees, increase productivity, or increase employee satisfaction.”

“We take a broad approach to professional development at HCC,” he explained. “We do certificate and training programs in management, leadership, and IT, and then we have a number of programs aimed specifically at careers, like our introduction to bookkeeping or, in the IT field, an introduction to networks.

“We have a certificate in business communication, which is online, and also one in innovation and critical thinking,” he went on. “There are a number of areas, and depending on the needs and interests of the individual, we can accommodate many other things they may be looking for.”


Getting Down to Business

Hayden, who came to the college after many years working for the city of Holyoke in economic-development roles, said HCC — like all the region’s community colleges — plays a critical role in workforce development in the region. And that role extends well beyond providing the traditional two-year degree programs which, in the case of HCC, often lead to transfer to four-year programs.

Indeed, it extends to continuing education, non-credit programs, and initiatives that, as he said earlier, involve professional development for the individual and initiatives aimed at helping businesses of all sizes become more competitive and productive.

“Oftentimes, when we think of workforce training, especially at community colleges, we tend to focus on occupational skills,” he explained. “And although those are necessary, they’re often related to specific tasks. So we put an emphasis on trying to find those occupational skills that managers, business owners, and professionals need to successfully grow their company, grow their employees, increase productivity, or increase employee satisfaction.

“And in some sense, increasing productivity and increasing employee satisfaction are companions in that same effort,” he went on. “Sometimes we think of them as separate; when we think about how to make sure our employees are happy and satisfied, we go to the issue of compensation, instead of focusing on the issue of job satisfaction, having pride in one’s work, and ownership of the project or service they provide. So we try look at professional development as a way to broaden the scope or mindset of the employee and have them look at the picture in terms of just not making something or doing a service, but having that be part of their own career goals and pathway.”

With these goals in mind, the college has offered a women’s leadership lunch series featuring area women business leaders talking about their success formulas, Hayden said, adding that this series, staged over six lunches, will likely return in the spring of 2024.

Overall, the college is continuously monitoring the business community and the workplace, he explained, with an eye toward creating programs to address emerging needs and challenges.

Such is the case with the new HR workshops on assessments, which will be led by Lynn Turner, president of CORE XP Business Solutions Inc.

“These are designed to help organizations understand how to leverage assessments within the future of work — how to assess and evaluate employees in a way that increases productivity and increases teamwork, communication, and employee satisfaction,” Hayden said, noting that there will be two workshops, with participants having the option of signing up for one or both. They are designed for entrepreneurs, HR personnel, and managers at small companies that don’t have their own HR departments,

The first will focus on the changing dynamics of the future of work, understanding the value of assessments within a talent strategy, and gaining exposure to different assessment tools. The second will focus on best practices for assessment implementation, leveraging assessments for talent acquisition and development, driving engagement and retention through assessments, and creating a customized roadmap for leveraging assessments.

Overall, the professional-development programs at HCC are blueprinted to assist individuals as they look to enter or advance within the workforce, but also meet identified needs within the business community for specific skills, Hayden said, noting that these twin ambitions are the motivation behind such programs as a 12-hour educational cannabis core program that provides an overview of the cannabis industry in Massachusetts and is designed for individuals looking for general knowledge as they consider a career in that sector, and the non-credit “Introduction to Bookkeeping” course, the need for which has become increasingly apparent given recent trends.

“There is growing need for bookkeepers in the region, especially at smaller companies; many nonprofits, for example, are looking for people who can help on that end,” he said, adding that the program is geared toward individuals looking to enter that field, but also incumbent workers looking to acquire more skills in that realm.

There are many such programs being offered the school, he said, noting that HCC offers a number of online certificate programs, most of them focused on business management and administration, such as an offering in nonprofit management featuring a simulation component, another in business communication, and others in innovation and critical thinking, data analytics, and project management.


Work in Progress

Summing it all up, Hayden said professional development at HCC is a huge part of the school’s mission and its evolving role when it comes to both workforce development and economic development.

The portfolio of programs and initiatives is, like the business community and the workforce itself, ever-changing. But the goal remains the same: it’s about helping area employees, job seekers, business leaders, and companies get where they want to go.