Our region is often noted as a beautiful place to experience the outdoors, a great area to sample local chefs’ creations at a quaint eatery, attend a country fair on a warm summer day, and even a superior place to raise a family. But some of our areas most valuable assets are often overlooked—and that is our workforce. Our workforce is hailed for its work ethic and dedication. Those two attributes alone though are not enough for us to jump the next hurdle and be prepared for future endeavors—whether that is in expanding our existing industry base or growing new industries in the region.
In order to prepare our workforce, we must first be prepared to embrace lifelong learning. With new technologies, new processes and advanced production methods becoming a part of normal industry growth, we as a community must be willing to learn and adapt to these opportunities. This can be accomplished in many ways—first, basic skills enhancement must be ongoing. This can range from expanding your basic computer knowledge, customer service skills, middle-level management leadership skills, workplace communication, or Microsoft Office programming knowledge. Advances in technology and new working practices demand flexible, multi-skilled employees—a workforce knowledgeable in math, communication and computer skills.
Currently basic skills enhancement training is available through your local Job Training offices, CareerLink and the higher education institutions that are present in the region. Another way to accomplish adding value to our workforce is to offer new and creative ways to conduct this training. Workforce Wayne has been working towards this goal since 2008. In 2010 we opened The Wayne/Pike Technology Training Lab located in Hawley. Our goal with this facility is to provide a consortium training space for use by training providers, higher education institutions and businesses. We see this lab as a shared learning space that would allow training providers/higher education institutions in the Commonwealth to expand their offerings to our workforce community—whether physically in the classroom or remotely via video conferencing. Workforce Wayne continues to work on expanding these relationships to bring about opportunity.
The other key project Workforce Wayne has been working on since its inception is a Career and Technical Center for Wayne and Pike Counties. Wayne and Pike Counties are two of only three counties in the Commonwealth not served by this type of facility. So, what does this mean? Our high school students have limited means of gaining industry training while they are attending high school and our adult population does not have the opportunity to gain training after normal school hours either. Our school districts offer a smattering of career and technical programs, but they have limited space and limited resources without a center. They are nowhere close to offering the number of state-of-the-art programs that could be offered in a dedicated facility. Career Technology Centers across the Commonwealth are training their student population by day and their adult population by night in programs such as welding, plumbing, electronics, nanotechnology, dental assisting, CDL/heavy equipment operations, advertising design/print making, masonry, diesel mechanics, pre-engineering, licensed practical nursing and many, many more careers.
Career and technical education can provide the preparation our community requires for the demanding roles that need to be filled in the 21st Century economy. The U.S. Department of Labor projects 70% of the jobs created in the next decade will require education beyond high school, but only 20% will require a four-year college degree. A dedicated Career and Technical Center can fill this gap and become a critical component of workforce development for adults and our youth. It is Workforce Wayne’s vision and our goal that our area adds to our list of assets a well prepared, highly trained workforce that can meet and exceed the skills required for the 21st century.
[Lyndsay J. Birmelin is the executive director of Workforce Wayne, Inc., a 501(c)(3) partnership of business, education, government, economic development, employment services, and community entities in Wayne and Pike Counties. Workforce Wayne (www.workforcewayne.org ) and its 25-member board of directors is working towards an effective workforce delivery system.]