When companies have problems, the roots can usually be traced to management, says Maureen Ramer, dean of occupational education at Rio Hondo Community College.
That's why it's important for educators and industry managers to work together to form a comprehensive system for getting out the word on technical innovations and new leadership techniques, said Ramer, who is heading the college's involvement in a new program called "Future Technologies Center."
"If (industry) is not dynamic and moving ahead, then management is to blame," she said, adding that the training provided under the new program will increase productivity and make industry more competitive.
Rio Hondo, which has an enrollment of 15,000 and serves students in the southeastern area of the San Gabriel Valley, is one of five community colleges in the state that is participating in the technology center, an educational network that links campuses with industry and ensures a steady exchange of the latest information and ideas.
Among key concepts are frequent workplace visits by college instructors who also receive intensive training seminars; a computer-based library of the latest production and management systems; specialized, short-term courses taught both on campus and at the work site, and eventually a "distance learning network" that will use cable TV and computer terminals to transmit information wherever it is needed throughout California.
Ramer said Rio Hondo instructors are focusing on teaching a management system called statistical process control. Under this method, managers of manufacturing companies learn a system of organization that was developed by Edward Demming, who pioneered "quality circles" in the 1950s. Demming, now in his 80s, has been a consultant to the Ford Motor Co. for the past three years. Ramer said the results of his work are evident in examining the company's recent performance.
"Ford has shown higher profits than General Motors this year," she said. "The auto industry credits Demming with having turned Ford around."
The other four community colleges in the pilot project, funded by a state start-up grant of $54,000, are El Camino College near Torrance, Fullerton Community College, Los Rios in Sacramento and Cabrillo at Aptos in Northern California.
The Gold Coast Technology Exchange Center, a private, nonprofit firm in Orange County, is coordinating the project for the five colleges. Earlier this month, instructors and administrators gathered in Ontario for a strategy session and a weeklong seminar on new production management techniques.
Kathy Lusk, director of the Technology Exchange Center, said the five colleges will be given different assignments to make the ambitious project more manageable. One of Rio Hondo's specialties, for example, is teaching employees in different departments to work together. When new management and manufacturing methods have been tested at participating factories, she said, the knowledge will be disseminated to the other 101 community colleges in the state, which will in turn pass on the information to industries in their areas.
"Educating technical workers is a costly, never-ending effort at aerospace and other high-tech firms," Lusk said. "We feel that the new network, and all the training programs that go with it, will prove to be a much more cost-effective approach."
Ramer said the program will help the state tackle a problem that is common with much of the country's industries.
"The United States is not No. 1 in the world with production anymore," she said. "Some things need to be done in order to change that."