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Higher Ed Leaders Discuss Impact of Educated Workforce


Western Nevada College (WNC) hands-on training for gigafactory jobs
Western Nevada College offers hands-on training for gigafactory jobs. Photo: WNC

By Carla O’Day

The links local colleges have to the community are helping propel the diversification of the Reno area’s economy, but it’s important to be sure companies moving to the region will be able to hire locals, top education officials said Friday.

Roles that higher education plays in the area was the topic of the monthly Western Industrial Nevada breakfast meeting held at the Peppermill Resort Spa Casino.

University of Nevada, Reno president Marc Johnson; Truckee Meadows Community College president Karin Hilgersom; Western Nevada College president Chet Burton; and Economic Development Authority of Western Nevada president and chief executive officer Mike Kazmierski were the panelists. Jason Geddes, Nevada System of Higher Education regent, moderated.

New business, such as the Tesla gigafactory and Switch data center, are coming to Northern Nevada soon and each will bring new business and industry, panelists said.

“We have a huge challenge ahead to make sure these companies coming to the area are prosperous,” Hilgersom said.

Kazmierski said education is EDAWN’s most important partner.

“What employers want to know is, ‘What does your workforce look like now and what can we expect in years ahead?’” Kazmierski said. “Their ability to succeed is dependent on our educational institutions.”

University of Nevada, Reno President Marc Johnson.

Johnson encouraged people to think of education as an investment, rather than an expense. UNR recently partnered with Switch to create the InNEVation Center on the southern end of downtown Reno. It’s used to simulate the creation and incubation of new business.

“We’re really out to help business grow,” Johnson said.

Geddes asked panelists about their thoughts on education being a lifelong process. It’s rare that someone can earn a degree and never go back for further training.

Hilgersom said potential workers can enroll at TMCC and start classes right away.

Burton said workforce certification for people will help employers meet their hiring goals.

“If a need isn’t being met in your company, you’ve got to go elsewhere,” Burton said. “We need students in the pipeline now or companies won’t be able to hire locals.”

Johnson said employers have told him the university produces great engineers but it would help if they had business experience. As a result, UNR is looking at creating programs in this area.

“Keep coming to us with your ideas and we’ll create the programs you need,” Johnson told the several hundred people at the event.

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Carla O'Day
Carla O'Day
Carla has an undergraduate degree in journalism and more than 10 years experience as a daily newspaper reporter. She grew up in Jacksonville, Fla., moved to the Reno area in 2002 and wrote for the Reno Gazette-Journal for 8 years, covering a variety of topics. Prior to that, she covered local government in Fort Pierce, Fla.