04/24/05 — Chamber project designed to improve workforce

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Chamber project designed to improve workforce

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on April 24, 2005 2:01 AM

The education committee of the Wayne County Chamber of Commerce has adopted a project it hopes will improve workforce preparedness among students getting ready to enter the job market.

Last week, the committee decided to create a partnership between the business community and the schools aimed at helping students make better career decisions. If successful, committee members said, the partnership will boost economic development in the county.

Debbie Pittman, an accountant with the Pittman Price Co., spoke to the committee about the needs of businesses and what students are being taught in the schools.

"Teachers are doing awesome jobs teaching what they teach," Ms. Pittman said. "But what we're expecting all employees to know may not actually be what's being taught in schools.

"By going in early, these businesses can start developing their workforce in middle and high schools," she said. "Then we can make sure that what's being taught to those kids is what we need in employees."

She introduced a "Career to Work Activity" model for the program, which she said has proved successful in neighboring Johnston County. She urged chamber officials to support the program, noting that federal and grant money that may be available to help start it probably will run out after a few years.

Johnston County's program started with grant money, she said, but after the government money disappeared, the program stayed afloat because the chamber of commerce there got behind it and involved businesses, colleges and schools.

Ms. Pittman said that partnering with the schools provides not only awareness and hands-on experience for students, but encourages the development of skills necessary for employment. Calling it "real life education," she said volunteers become mentors, talking with students at all grade levels about career opportunities in different fields.

Among the activities she suggested were career days, classroom speakers, job shadowing, internships and apprenticeships, cooperative education, and leadership development.

She said the results of Johnston County's program have been impressive.

"If you were to see some of these students' senior projects, when they realized a career was not right for them ... saving their parents a lot of money on college, and they're motivated, you would know that this is important," she said.

"Whenever you start teaching these kids and giving them a mission and a purpose, they're motivated, they'll do better on end-of-grade tests. The school system benefits from having more full-time students and they get more money from the state."

Johnston County's success has led to spin-off programs, Ms. Pittman noted.

"We have a junior leadership program there now because of it, a workforce development center being opened this summer," she said. "Career academics, theme schools, magnet schools, whatever you want to call it, are being looked at because of it."

Ms. Pittman offered to investigate ways to develop such a program in Wayne County and said she will also work on funding options. She said has already spoken with some Wayne educators who have expressed interest.

"They want it in Wayne County but nobody's willing to take it forward," she said.

Ken Benton, the chairman of the Wayne chamber's education committee, said the chamber needs to actively pursue the program. Other members agreed. Benton and Craig Uzzell, the principal at Belfast Academy, will work with Ms. Pittman on a program planning committee.

Committee member Betsy Roseman said she sees great potential for students who are pondering their future.

"I definitely think it's a good idea to let them know there's job opportunities in Wayne County to keep them in Wayne County," she said.