The trails of yellow paper started on the blackboard, then snaked across walls and around the room until they finally ended on windows. They weren't unusual classroom decorations; they were a profile of a job.
At Salt Lake Community College, college officials are using a process called a DACUM, which stands for Developing A Curriculum, to help develop courses for new or existing programs. To do this, education and industry meet with a common goal to define the skills necessary to turn out employable students.The DACUM is actually a daylong workshop that brings to the college a variety of front-line workers who outline the nuts and bolts of their jobs. Later, college officials, working with an advisory committee from industry, use the information supplied by the workers to incorporate it into existing courses or to set up new ones.
The method prevents the college classroom instruction from straying too far from the workplace. "We're known as a practical, how-to school, and we try very hard to be that," said Jo Rieber, college coordinator of workshops, seminars and conferences.
At a recent DACUM, college staff picked the brains of 13 customer service representatives from the retail, travel, airlines and hotel industries on everything from telephone etiquette and necessary technical skills to development of good interpersonal skills and a strong work ethic.
All day, they took apart their jobs, piece by piece, writing each skill on a yellow sheet of paper and then taping them up around the room. They ferreted out the fundamentals and simple tasks of the job, but also learned something about themselves along the way.
"The brainstorming is important, because you tend to take a lot of what you do for granted," said ZCMI's Valerie Thompson.
Marriott Hotel customer service representative Rick Moody also saw value in the process because it moves customer service out of the learn-as-you-go realm. It will be easier for new employees to cope, if they come well-prepared, college-trained and with realistic expectations, he said.
"In the hotel business, they (new employees) have expectations of only a glamorous business. They think everyone is pleasant and easy to deal with because the hotel's customers are on vacation. They don't think about the businessman who has been out on the road for a month and is burned out from traveling.It's important to really know if you'll like it before you get into the job," Moody said.
For customer service, that hasn't been possible before in Utah and many other parts of the country. Most vocational and community colleges don't offer training in the fast-growing customer service field. Companies train their own customer service representatives, and training varies from intense classroom and on-the-job supervision to practically non-existent instruction.
Recognizing the need for a better trained pool of prospective employees led American Express to give Salt Lake Community College $21,000 as seed money for its new program.
Michael Welch of the Traveler's Checks Division said American Express has a strong commitment to good customer service and training. "The company's image starts with the people in customer service. We represent American Express because we're the first people the customer gets. We are the company in the customer's eyes."
Next fall, Salt Lake Community College will begin the customer service program for a 52 credit-hour certificate. Eventually, the college plans to expand the course work into a two-year program.