Thinking Like an Entrepreneur Fosters Innovation

Through my daily interactions with students and employees at HACC, Central Pennsylvania’s Community College, and with members of the community, I learn their needs, hopes, and aspirations and hear how our institution can help them fulfill their dreams.

By listening to these voices over the past eight years, during my tenure as HACC President, we have transformed the college’s Workforce Development and Continuing Education Division from a money-losing operation to a robust, thriving engine of change throughout Central Pennsylvania and beyond. This division is at the forefront of forging business and industry partnerships to fill the growing skills gap created by an aging, retiring workforce and no dedicated pipeline of ready-to-work individuals. Manufacturers in Pennsylvania and across the country are grappling with the prospect of approximately 2.4 million unfilled jobs over the next decade (Manufacturing Institute, 2018).

Our industries need solutions today. They need us to listen and innovate to meet their needs. Among HACC’s innovative partnerships are apprenticeship programs that provide tools to upskill the workforce. Apprenticeships transfer the skills of an aging workforce to new employees, who work full time and take night classes at HACC. The competencies they gain at the worksite, coupled with the technical training they receive through HACC, allow them to earn as they learn during the 18-month program.

HACC is the first community college in Pennsylvania to provide an apprenticeship program (Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, 2017). The Industrial Manufacturing Technician Apprenticeship Program was developed in partnership with AMES Reese and the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry. New cohorts for fall 2019 included an emphasis on high schools and a pre-apprenticeship program for high school students in Lancaster County.

In March 2018, HACC launched Pennsylvania’s first Hospitality Apprenticeship Program in partnership with High Hotels to provide low-skilled staff a pathway from entry-level jobs to management. The college implemented an apprenticeship in tool and die starting in January 2019 with support and funding from TE Connectivity. This partnership supports a four-year apprenticeship program to train current employees as tool and die makers with plans to expand to include other industries in the future.

When HACC learned of the need for a skilled workforce to sustain the growing craft beer industry in Pennsylvania, we worked with Brewers of Pennsylvania (BOP) to create a pathway into the craft-brewing field. BOP helped HACC develop a curriculum for the college’s Brewing Science Certificate Program, which focuses on building the necessary talents for the industry. Local breweries partner with HACC to utilize their space and equipment. Students build a beer from recipe to creation as the capstone of the program.

HACC also responded to the needs of the emerging medical cannabis industry by partnering with the Pennsylvania Medical Cannabis Society to offer one-day information sessions to educate those interested in the field. HACC launched its first Medical Cannabis Business Specialist Certificate Program in fall 2019.

HACC also partners with secondary schools to identify graduates who choose to delay their postsecondary educational journey. The High School S.T.E.P. (Set goals, Take action, Expect success, and Put in the work) Academy lets students explore careers through industry tours and mock interviews before committing to a postsecondary program, while allowing our industries to stay productive and competitive.

A flexible, high-quality, and affordable education does not always have to result in a degree. By listening to the needs of the workforce and entering into intentional partnerships with businesses, we set our students up for career success while providing economic solutions that are practical, effective, and easily deployed.

Visit for the reference list.

John J. Ski Sygielski

President, HACC, Central Pennsylvania’s Community College


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