‘There are tremendous opportunities for individuals’

By Mike Lewis
Jack Drooger is the program manager for workforce solutions and continuing education at Hagerstown (Md.) Community College. On a break, he reaches for “some creamer, powdered creamer, sweetener, fat-free milk, and a little coffee to keep the morning going.”

Jack A. Drooger, program manager of workforce solutions and continuing education at Hagerstown Community College

By Mike Lewis

Coffee Break

From behind his stand-up desk at Hagerstown (Md.) Community College, Jack A. Drooger said he’s part teacher, part problem-solver.

The mix has kept him at the college for a quarter-century.

“It’s the variety. It’s the challenge,” Drooger said. “It’s the ability to be creative and solve problems for businesses and organizations.”

Drooger picked up a degree from the institution, known as Hagerstown Junior College at the time, and went to work in the computer field.

“I eventually came back to do the training for the first staff computers,” he said.

After helping the staff learn to use their brand-new Gateway personal computers and Microsoft programs, he wound up working for the college full-time.

His position has evolved through the years, he said, and he’s now the program manager for workforce solutions and continuing education. Courses in that section of the college don’t necessarily lead to a degree. Many of the programs offer specific training that often can lead to licensure or certifications, such as obtaining a commercial driver’s license to become a truck driver.

“We talk about having a career in less than a year,” he said, although most of the programs are eight to 16 weeks long.

By way of example, he pointed to the college’s fledging diesel technician program. After meeting with companies and doing some research, Drooger said, the HCC team learned there were 51 openings for diesel technicians in Western Maryland, and no program to train people for those jobs.

“Our goal is to find solutions. How can we bridge that gap? … In the long run, everybody wins,” he said.

On a break, do you reach for coffee, tea, soda, water … ?

When I was a kid, my parents kept a pot of coffee “percolating” into the afternoon most days. While the smell of coffee was a reminder of home, enjoyment of their bitter black brew was not a hereditary trait. Forty years later, I’ve warmed up to morning coffee. So on my break, I reach for some creamer, powdered creamer, sweetener, fat-free milk, and a little coffee to keep the morning going.

An average day for you includes … ?

One of the rewards and challenges of the college’s workforce solution area is the variety associated with an average day. I may be meeting with a company, planning courses for a future schedule, dealing with class delivery challenges or sitting with a student to discuss his or her employment goals. The list of what I’d like to accomplish each day is often pushed aside by the events coming in via email or phone. The staff here earn every day the “solution” portion of the division name by addressing the challenges of keeping the continuing education engine moving forward for the college and community.

What’s the biggest lesson students have taught you through the years?

To engage and be relatable. From teaching many years in the cybersecurity/networking academic program, I learned that understanding where students are and attempting to make concepts relevant to their experiences makes teaching/learning more enjoyable for everyone. Concepts related to network technologies or internet addressing schemes are easier to master when students can draw connections and apply the concepts. Advising potential students on their workforce options is very similar. Understanding the needs and goals of an individual is important to directing them toward their achievable goals. Sometimes that is a degree program, but other times, it’s a skills-based program that can address employment needs more quickly and move an individual to a living wage.

I like to emphasize that people should focus on a career and not just a job. Listening to area employers is another layer where engagement creates a better understanding of a company’s goals and how the college can assist.

Looking out five years or so, what will be some of the biggest challenges and opportunities for HCC, in terms of programs for workforce development?

There are tremendous opportunities for individuals and similar challenges for companies that need to be addressed if we are going to keep the area economy strong. The college will need to be flexible to meet those opportunities and challenges. Some of these are being driven by the generational changes in the workforce, and it’s our responsibility to work with community organizations to assist millennials into the skilled workforce as boomers move on to enjoy retirement. Part of the challenge is making the opportunities visible so a person who may have never considered a career, for example, in manufacturing or the skilled trades, can see a future employment pathway. Changes in technology will also impact what the college needs to accomplish for the community. There are different estimates on the impact, but automation/robotics will change the way we work even more dramatically in the future. The college will need to invest not just in the technologies but in understanding how work has changed and facilitating individuals and companies in the process.

Outside of work, what are your ambitions and aspirations?

As empty nesters, my wife, Dawn, and I like to do some traveling, but we are just as content to be at home with our pack of dogs, including one being trained for service. Since technology has been such a part of my past, both before and at HCC, there’s always some gadget that needs set up or another round of troubleshooting to see why it won’t respond to voice commands. A WiFi-enabled pellet smoker is the latest addition to the app family. And speaking of continuing education, a barbecue boot camp is the next class on my list.

Want to share a cup of coffee with our readers? Send an email to facetime@crossroadsbizjournal.com or call reporter Mike Lewis at 301-791-7482.