Barton creates Workforce Partnership Award
Barton Community College is highlighting the value of its workforce partners by creating an award that will honor one business or organization every six months. The "Workforce Partnership in Education" award was established with the first award going to local workforce giant CPI Qualified Plan Consultants Inc.
"Those of us in Workforce Training and Community Education could not do our jobs any given day if it wasn’t for partnerships," said Dean of Workforce Training and Community Education Elaine Simmons. "It is absolutely invigorating to know that we are doing this recognition of people in this area who have spent years partnering with Barton, such as CPI."
CPI Qualified Plan Consultants Inc. is like a turbo-charged economic engine for central Kansas. As Barton County’s largest private employer, with more than 500 employees, it operates as one of the nation’s leading providers of third-party administration services. To do that successfully, as CPI has for nearly four decades, requires the synchronization of a highly trained workforce.
For 30 years Barton Community College has been CPI’s primary training provider. Because of that strong, long-standing relationship, CPI has earned distinction as the first recipient of the "Workforce Partners in Education" award. Barton will present the award semiannually as a way to highlight the value of its workforce partners.
"They’ve been involved in so many projects over the years: Projects where they have allowed us to train their employees; projects where they have given us the opportunity to enhance programs that we have, or even create new ones," said Elaine Simmons, dean of Workforce Training and Community Education at Barton. "The list goes on, and it’s such an honor to recognize them for everything they have done and what they continue to do for this institution."
For many years, Barton has offered four classes that, when completed, enable CPI employees to earn certification by the American Society of Pension Professionals and Actuaries, which allows employees to become credentialed as a Qualified 401(k) Administrator. ASPPA coursework and QKA certification are not required at CPI, but participation is encouraged by management.
Stephanie Keasling came to the company five years ago with a bachelor’s degree, but with no background in pension administration. She likened her initial experience to drinking water from a fire hose because the amount of knowledge she needed to learn for her new job was so vast that absorbing all of the information immediately was impossible. She said Barton’s coursework helped her to "build a bigger picture," to understand the interworkings of CPI.
"Taking the classes definitely helps bring the pressure down," said Keasling, now a seasoned plan administrator. "There’s just a lot of knowledge for the 401(k) side of things. It’s so hard to assimilate all of that up front. By taking the time and going through the different steps of the classes, it helps you get a good grasp on things."
CPI provides scholarships and bonuses to those who work toward and complete the ASPPA coursework and certifications.
Over the years, Barton has provided not only certificate training, but management and leadership training and computer training. It began an associate degree program in pension administration nine years ago, initiated because of its relationship with CPI.
CPI conversion specialist Felicia Davis started with the company nearly six years ago as a paid intern — the same day she began taking classes at Barton. CPI provided scholarships for her entire education, and she had a full-time job immediately after graduating in 2008 with an associate degree in Business Management and Leadership.
"I thought it was a great idea to have all of my school paid for and to get a good job and a degree at the same time," said the 24-year- old Larned native, who has since built a solid career track with CPI. "I would have to say the business program is a great opportunity."
Even as the CPI-Barton partnership is being lauded, there are new ventures just starting for the two entities as they collaborate on yet another educational pursuit. A new ASPPA designation was added this year: the Tax Exempt and Governmental Plan Consultant Program.
"We have employees pursuing that designation already," said Margaret Dirks, employee relations director for CPI. "As with the other designations, there are required exams that ASPPA wants them to take. In order to study for those exams, it would be possible to self-study, but because of our relationship with the college, we are able to set up classes (at CPI), which is very beneficial to the employees."
Barton has answered the call. Jane Howard, Barton’s executive director of Business Technology, said one class has already begun for the new designation and the second will be added in August. Howard added that the Barton-CPI partnership is enhanced by changes every year in the classes due to changes in tax codes. Because of that fact, Howard said she stays in close contact with CPI and the instructors. In fact, she teaches two of the six pension administration certificate courses. CPI human resources director Erika Brining said CPI is aware of Barton’s level of commitment and the company is grateful.
"We certainly wouldn’t be the quality of company we are today without the assistance of Barton," said Brining. "Our relationships are integral to the initiatives we are trying to accomplish — not just now but ongoing."
Check out video interviews related to CPI’s recent award at, youtube.com/user/BaCOUGARnKS