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Workforce development is aiding Venango County|
By Celena E. Kusch
Workforce development is a critical issue here in the Commonwealth and across the nation. In the next five years, almost 90 percent of the nations current labor force will require training to maintain productivity. Over the next decade, it is projected that almost half of all job openings will require a postsecondary education. Increasing access to education throughout a workers lifetime will be crucial to maintain productive, profitable and competitive businesses and strong, healthy families and communities within the Commonwealth and beyond.|
To meet these workforce development needs, Venango County businesses and organizations are working together at the local level. Penn State Cooperative Extension, the Clarion\Venango Educational Resources Alliance (C\VERA) and the Pennsylvania Job Center have teamed up with local partners in industry, education and government to provide valuable lifelong learning opportunities.
InVEST (Venango Employability Skills Training) is a six-week training program designed by area businesses and educators to prepare potential employees for entry-level positions in manufacturing and to teach them the skills that will help them attain future promotions. Staff from local businesses serve as the designers and instructors of the courses, giving participants a unique opportunity to make contacts within the companies in which they will be seeking jobs.
The InVEST program is a consortium of area manufacturers, the Pennsylvania Job Center, C\VERA, Penn State Outreach and Cooperative Extension and other local organizations working in partnership to deliver a cost-effective, business-driven process to provide a qualified workforce in their community.
Industry members include Electralloy, Franklin Bronze, Franklin Industries, Kapp Wire and Alloy, Matric Limited, Seneca Printing, and Structural Modulars Inc. Negotiations are under way to add additional manufacturers to this group. In joining the consortium, these companies commit their resources in both time and money, designing courses, teaching and observing students and conducting tours of their plants. By making this initial investment collectively, the manufacturers become more familiar with the job candidates and ensure that these candidates will be quality employees before they are hired.
Penn State has worked to initiate and sustain the consortium. InVEST co-coordinators, Dan Brockett, Penn State Cooperative Extension agent, and JoAnn Wheeler of C\VERA, have made it possible to engage University and community resources to develop a better workforce for these industries. To aid in this programs development, Brockett obtained a $15,000 grant from the Outreach and Cooperative Extension Program Innovation Fund. Dr. Patricia A. Book, associate vice president for outreach and executive director, Division of Continuing Education, is the fund director. She acknowledged the programs innovative approach to addressing a critical societal needworkforce education.
Like many communities around the nation, Franklin-area businesses have had trouble finding good entry-level candidates to fill openings, Wheeler said. By forming a partnership between industry and education through this program, we have created a win-win situation for employers and their potential employees. InVEST is a model of a good collaboration, drawing upon the different resources and strengths of the private and public sectors to improve the community.
Technological advances in every economic sector have increased the demand for workers who can reason, collaborate and problem solve. InVEST companies and partners from the education sector designed the course curriculum with these needs in mind. Students receive training in workplace communications, teamwork, personal and career development, writing, math, computer literacy and technology basics.
Our employers came together with us to say what theyd like to see their applicants prepared to do, Brockett explained. They did not want specific skills like forklift training, welding or computer-aided drafting, but rather those skills common to each company and centered on themes like teamwork, personal responsibility, quality control, lifelong learning and participation.
Building on the knowledge and experience of industry experts within the consortium companies, Penn State Cooperative Extension and other education providers help these industry instructors translate their technical information into teachable material for the learners. One quality improvement class, for example, counted colors and defects in candy bag samples to teach students to measure and graph quality indicators. Students then compared the data with common industry standards from manufacturers in the consortium, leading to a discussion of quality assurance tracking and correction and the role of all employees in ensuring quality.
This workforce development training has opened up new opportunities for the many students who have joined the program. The program attracts a variety of candidates, both men and women, ranging in age from 21 to 54. Most are under-employed. The students share a common attitude and motivation. Seventy percent of those who enroll already have full-time employment and view this continuing education as an opportunity for advancement and a long-term career.
The commitment InVEST demands of its students is equally impressive to employers. Potential students must already possess a high school diploma or equivalent, pass a skills-based aptitude test administered by the Job Center, consent to a drug screen and demonstrate their motivation through an interview process. The program adheres to a strict zero absence policy and asks for a $100 investment from students. In return, they get a rigorous but rewarding training program, but no guarantee of a job upon completion.
Despite this lack of guarantees, the training has proven effective in improving the students job opportunities. Of InVESTs first group of students, all were successful in capturing their desired level of employment. Most secured positions with consortium firms. One student purposely stayed with a previous employer and obtained a promotion, rather than be placed elsewhere.
For the companies involved, this training has made a real difference in the quality of their candidates and new employees. Linda Anderson, human resources officer at Electralloy, explained, In providing a pool of applicants to choose from, InVEST saves time and expense in recruitment. In addition, InVEST candidates are already trained in soft skills. They all have good attitudes and are real team players, and they are more aware of our company and our specific needs. When we interview InVEST candidates for job openings, we know they really are interested in working here, and that we can make a good match between employer and employee. The program is really as beneficial for us as it is for the students.
Penn State has been extremely pleased with the success of this program, said Dr. Ted Alter, associate vice president for Outreach and director of Cooperative Extension. We view InVEST as a pilot program and hope to expand this kind of workforce development initiative to other regions of the Commonwealth. It is this kind of partnership between University and local resources and industry needs that fulfills our outreach mission to the businesses and communities in Pennsylvania.
Everyone deserves a piece of the credit for the success of InVEST, Brockett said. This has truly been a consortium where all partners have brought a strong and important effort to the table. We see our program continuing to provide a qualified and motivated pool of employees to our local companies, and this is an immeasurably valuable step to building a sustainable local economy. We hope to attract more companies, to raise the standards of education and training and to have a positive impact on employment throughout the area.
In addition to Penn State Cooperative Extension, the Clarion\Venango Educational Resources Alliance, the Pennsylvania Job Center and business consortium members, project partners include Venango Area Vo-Tech, Northwest Pennsylvania Job Training, Gill Consulting and Venango County Economic Development Corporation.