07/16/07 — Organizations form partnership to train more qualified workers

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Organizations form partnership to train more qualified workers

By Matthew Whittle
Published in News on July 16, 2007 1:45 PM

Two years ago, when Wayne County Development Alliance existing industry specialist Mike Haney came to Goldsboro, one of the first things he learned was that there was a dearth of locally available skilled labor.

"One of the first stops I made was an industry visit with Bill Pate at the Employment Security Commission. We discussed the challenges of having a skilled workforce, and when we got out to see the industries, I saw what they were talking about," he said. "We have a problem with some of the skills in the applicants looking for jobs."

He explained that the reason behind that lack of available skilled labor is two-fold.

The first is Wayne County's relatively low unemployment rate -- consistently under 5 percent.

"Our labor market is pretty thin, so a skilled workforce is in high demand," he said.

The other problem is that of those who are unemployed, too many not only lack the job specific skills needed for the available positions, they also lack the ability to even acquire those skills.

"I'm not saying the public schools are floundering, but the vast majority of the 2,400 (unemployed) do not have the skills needed to perform the jobs available. And there are some pretty-good-paying jobs out there," Haney said.

But, he added, if everything goes according to plan, county officials hope to soon begin rectifying that situation with a new joint program between Wayne County Workforce Development Council, Wayne County Development Alliance, Wayne Community College, Wayne County Public Schools and local industries.

"What we're trying to do is grow our own and create a skilled workforce that can be employed by our industries," he explained.

Called the Wayne Occupational Readiness Keys for Success program, WORKS is a new initiative meant to help people -- mostly high school juniors and seniors -- gain the basic skills they need as they enter the county's job market.

To diagnose what skills the students are lacking, Haney explained that a WorkKeys assessment test would be administered to students in the ninth or tenth grade who are on a possible career track.

Once those areas where they are falling short are identified -- particularly in those of applied mathematics, reading for information, locating information and writing -- those students can receive extra help.

Then, depending on their progress, they could not only graduate with a high school diploma, but also a gold, silver or bronze National Career Readiness Certificate.

"That means an individual with a gold certificate has the ability to acquire the skills for 90 percent of the jobs in the WorkKeys database," Haney said.

From there, he continued, the community college already has an excellent vocational program and has long worked hand-in-hand with many county industries to provide training for new employees and re-training for older ones.

But before the program can get off the ground, a coordinator is needed.

The WORKS Advisory Board is looking for someone with at least a bachelor's degree, and preferably a master's in either vocational education, public administration or business, marketing and sales. The board also wants someone with at least three years of management experience, as well as experience in fundraising and grant-writing.

Most importantly, though, Haney said, the coordinator will need to be able to link the schools, the community college, the county and the various industries together, while helping create and direct this new program.

The position will be county-funded through Wayne Community College, and already the application period has ended.

"The key is to find the right person for that position, hopefully by the end of July," Haney said. "We don't have any model to follow for this. We're going to have to develop our own.

"We're sure there's going to be some bumps in the road, but we'll iron those out as we go."