Windham County program brings together educators and employers
BRATTLEBORO >> A new program is seen as a way bridge the gap between local educators and employers.
"We're super jazzed about it," said Adam Grinold, executive director at the Brattleboro Development Credit Corporation. "It's going to be out there in place next year. As we learn from that implementation, it will get better. We could learn a lot of bad things but we have all the confidence this will only gather more support."
Fast Tracks to Success was established as a response to issues outlined in the Comprehensive Economic Development Strategies document put together by the BDCC's economic development arm Southeastern Vermont Economic Development Strategies: the need to increase the size and quality of the workforce.
To show the available jobs and the skill sets needed to fill them, curriculum and logistical support will be given to Leland & Gray Union High School, Bellows Falls Union High School, Twin Valley Middle-High School and Brattleboro Union High School. Field trips will be arranged to local employers.
"Our missions here at BDCC and also SeVEDS is to create an environment where businesses can be sustained and thrive. And in order to do that, we are acutely aware of the focus on the workforce," Grinold said. "This really gets at the heart of it — to let the teachers, students and parents know of the many opportunities that exist here in Windham County."
Last year, the Department of Labor funded the Regional Workforce Partnership grant which brought together educators and employers to understand the needs of both groups. A group known as the Educator Workforce Committee, which included guidance counselors, career counselors, technical teachers and Windham Regional Career Center staff, would get together monthly with BDCC employees.
A "career menu survey" was then conducted as way for all participants to see what programs were available and their quality was discussed, said Alex Beck, workforce and education specialist at the BDCC.
"All across the board, throughout all four high schools, they said, 'We want to increase engagement with businesses,'" Beck said. "This program (Fast Tracks) is a career awareness program to bring students from the classroom into our local employers so that they can really see, 'This is what's going on in my town. This is what I want to be when I go grow up.'"
Besides engagement, transportation and scheduling were seen as the main obstacles. Beck volunteered to apply for a grant to aid in those areas. The DOL then provided the BDCC with an $18,000 Workforce and Education Training Fund grant so collaborative efforts could continue. The money will go towards getting students to the businesses and curriculum design. Schools will have different people to implement the program.
One school may have the perfect teacher lined up, said Beck, and another could find someone from the community to come in. While the curriculum should be ready by June and will be the same for all schools, he expects the program to look different in each of the schools.
Students could be surprised by the opportunities they see in the region.
Take Sonnax in Bellows Falls and G.S. Precision in Brattleboro for instance. Both are high-tech manufacturing operations.
When some people think of manufacturing jobs, Beck said they picture employees wearing overalls being covered in grease with pieces of metal flying into their eyeballs. But this is the 1950s stereotype, he warned.
Manufacturing going on in Windham County today, Beck said, is like "sci-fi."
"The machines they use are just so cool," he said.
During a tour of a local manufacturing plant, Beck noticed teachers were not wearing the appropriate clothing. Some were wearing open-toed shoes and "billowy outfits," he said.
"If they don't know what it's like behind the doors, how can they show that to the students? I don't particularly think it's the teachers' jobs to know exactly what the businesses do and what it's like to put in a day's work there," he said. "But they all recognize it's important to communicate that. This program fills that gap."
Beck also knows what businesses need positions filled or anticipate a need. His group recently put together a five-year hiring inventory after surveying local companies.
"We understood there would be 3,000 to 5,000 job openings from retirement to expansion to new businesses. And with that assessment, we now know we need to have many different ways to bring people to those jobs," said Grinold. "One way is retaining youth. We're also working on recruitment from outside the region with Southern Vermont marketing."
Contact Chris Mays at firstname.lastname@example.org or 802-254-2311, ext. 273.
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