The construction of Ranken Technical College’s new 21,000-square-foot Workforce Development Center at the southeast edge of the U.S. 63 Ashland overpass is progressing on target. When Ranken opens its doors this fall, the college hopes to attract students from six mid-Missouri counties who will begin learning skills needed to qualify for high-demand jobs. Ranken will offer a wide range of courses leading to associate degrees and certificates in technical skills for youths and adults, while supplying the mid-Missouri business community with a skilled and disciplined workforce.
Bill Lloyd, retired Ashland banker and former Boone County Planning and Zoning commissioner, has been shepherding the project from its beginning, when it was just an idea, through its major fundraising stage, until today, when the building is taking shape. He’s committed to seeing the project through its last bit of fundraising and in-kind donations, which will be needed for the purchase and installation of classroom equipment. Lloyd has been leading a group of school administrators, business leaders and representatives from area manufacturers and health care settings for about four years. Through donations and grants, the group has raised more than $8 million to cover construction costs. They have also worked to develop a thorough understanding of the particular skills and knowledge that mid-Missouri employers require from the workforce if they are to continue to grow and prosper locally.
Not only will small businesses and large-scale manufacturing become more sustainable in mid-Missouri, but more young people will be able to stay in the area and find good-paying jobs. “For me, community projects are about meeting a community need. After talking with the CEO of Ranken and having seen what they’ve done in St. Louis, Troy, Wentzville and Perryville, I was convinced there’s a great need for this type of education in mid-Missouri,” Lloyd says.
Nationwide, there are more job openings for skilled employees than there are qualified people to fill them. “For decades, high school counselors have been telling kids to go to a fouryear college. Now if you look around us, we have a real shortage of plumbers, electricians, HVAC technicians and carpenters. And these skilled men and women make a good living. I decided that we need to see what we can do about this,” Lloyd says.
Ranken seemed like a promising option and a good fit for area schools. It’s a well-known, established technical college, which was started in 1907 in St. Louis. It boasts a 98% placement rate for its graduates. “The Southern Boone School District was looking to provide technical education,” says Shannon Brueggemann, Ranken vice president for education. “For students not interested in going to a university for four or more years, our courses lead to opportunities for a great entry to a career; one they might not know exists.”
The Workforce Development Center is expected to stimulate more growth in mid-Missouri. “When you bring technical education to an area, usually industry follows — they have confidence their skilled workforce will be there,” Brueggemann says.
Ranken’s Ashland location will provide training in four main areas: manufacturing, which includes industrial technology and welding; information technology; building and construction, with an emphasis on commercial construction; and entrylevel nursing. Regardless of which courses students take, they are required to show a strong work ethic. “Employers know when they hire a Ranken graduate that they are getting someone who has met Ranken’s work ethic requirements,” Brueggemann says.
Ranken and the Southern Boone School District are currently finalizing the details of an agreement that will allow high school students to dual enroll, taking Ranken classes in their senior year. Because students who successfully graduate high school will be eligible for Missouri’s A+ Scholarship Program, it’s possible that their degree or certificates will cost very little or nothing, depending on the agreement. “We’re looking forward to providing opportunities to students from Southern Boone High School and area high schools, as well as adults,” Southern Boone School’s Superintendent Tim Roth says.
Ranken’s approach to growth is to wait until communities reach out to them and convince them that there’s a need and support for technical education in the area. Among the many companies and businesses that provided funds and assistance that made this move to Ashland possible are: Emery Sapp and Sons, the Builder’s Association, MU Health Care, Hubbell Power Systems, Hitachi Energy, Veterans United and the Southern Boone School District. Additionally, T and M Properties donated the site where the building is being built. After three years of programming, the building will transfer to Ranken, Lloyd says.
But even before classes begin, there’s another important task that Lloyd has assumed — getting the word out to potential students. “The key to the success of this project is to convince enough kids that going into technical training provides just as good a life as getting a fouryear degree,” Lloyd says.