By Michael Campbell – News Editor
SURRY – A challenge for many rural communities in Virginia and around the nation is how to create additional opportunities in terms of employment and training and give their residents access to those resources.
It’s a challenge that Surry faced head-on and sparked the development of a workforce development initiative in 2015, led by the Surry County Office on Youth, which sought to “become the catalyst for youth, families and workforce development” by “expanding citizen’s knowledge, increasing opportunities for services and empowering the community through resource development and partnerships.”
One year later, the results of their efforts are evident as officials with the Surry Resource and Employment Center gave a progress report on their accomplishments, highlighting key partnerships and initiatives that are improving the lives of residents in the county.
During their presentation, the center noted they have maintained and strengthened existing relationships with key agencies in the county and other stakeholders, including education partners like the John Tyler Community College Board and Southside Adult Education Program, and a number of workforce-related entities, such as the Virginia Employment Commission and Crater Regional Workforce Investment Board.
In addition, the resource center developed new partnerships with utility company Dominion, Wells Fargo bank and a long list of businesses, including Food Lion Distribution in Prince George, Chick-fil-A, and Blackwater Regional Library, among others.
The efforts by the Surry Resource and Employment Center comes nearly two years after Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe set a goal of graduating 50,000 Virginians from training programs in the fields of science, technology, engineering, mathematics and health fields, commonly known as STEM-H, by the time his term ends in 2017.
“By better aligning workforce supply to employer demands, we can implement common-sense solutions that will help ensure Virginia’s workers can get the skills they need for the jobs they want,” said Governor McAuliffe in 2014 as he spoke about Executive Order 23, creating “The New Virginia Economy Workforce Initiative.”
“In order to remain globally competitive, it is critical that Virginia’s workers have the tools they need to succeed in a 21st century economy,” McAuliffe continued.
In September of this year, McAuliffe announced that state agencies had granted 5,778 more STEM-H Workforce Credentials during fiscal year 2016 than in fiscal year 2015.
STEM-H Workforce Credentials include industry certifications, occupational licenses, registered apprenticeship credentials, and college certificates and associate of applied science degrees aligned with STEM-H occupational skill sets.
These workforce credentials can help job seekers attain good paying, high-demand technician, technologist, and trades jobs across the Commonwealth.
Last year, according to a Burning Glass report, the Commonwealth had 175,000 vacancies for these jobs.
For Surry, attendance at statewide meetings hosted by the governor and the Community College Workforce Alliance served as a guide for where the new employment and resource center.
“During these meetings, it has become evident that Surry County must make it a priority to join others across the Commonwealth in helping the Governor to reach his workforce and economic development goals,” officials explained.
For the center, they believe by “expanding our local efforts to increase attainment rates of certifications aligned with regional labor market demands,” it may be able to increase the county’s and the center’s ability to leverage resources from the state and federal government.
“Through the combined efforts of the public and private sectors, local services could be expanded to create new opportunities that would benefit youth and adults by offering chances to earn and learn and provide more intensive support services and career coaching.”
According to the center, they have had a steady stream of visitors to their offices over the past six months, with an average of 70 people per month coming in. They also sponsored a number of on-site hiring events in the county, partnering with Chick-fil-A in Williamsburg and Prince George’s Food Lion distribution center, along with Perdue Farms.
Surry Resource and Employment Center also partnered with the Office on Youth to create a new “Surry County Summer Work Readiness Student Trainee Program,” collaborating with the local school division’s CTE department and funding coming partially from Surry County and John Tyler Community College.
Through this program, twelve agencies and organizations from Surry and one from Sussex served a total of 12 9th to 12th graders for six weeks.
Those students were able to take part in mock interviews and become engaged in their workplaces, including careers such as clerical and office assistants, tour guides, childcare providers, and maintenance workers.
“It is evident that our future economic and workforce stability depends upon our ability to realign our workforce and economic priorities,” the center explained. “The need is evident and it is imperative that the county intensify our efforts to engage our citizens. Continuous investments in our technological infrastructure, more updated website/social media maintenance, and stronger economic development services will be the basis for the development of future workforce of this great county.”
Going into 2018, the center hopes to expand the number of training programs, credentials and certifications available to residents from all walks of life, including youth, young adults, and adults, such as military veterans, dislocated unemployed and under employed workers and retirees. In addition, they hope to host a business roundtable in collaboration with local agencies and key stakeholder groups and facilitate a “South of the James” career and job fair or youth expo, among others.
Ultimately, they hope to be able to aid the board of supervisors in developing their “Strategic Action Agenda,” which the center believes the workforce development initiative could impact the county’s goal of, “Assisting in the coordination of a Surry County Local Government Academy to help citizens learn about their county government” and “aiding in the establishment of a business retention and expansion program to support county businesses.”
“As this country moves into a period of new leadership through the presidential election process, it is more imperative that Surry County is anchored in long-term, comprehensive planning that will meet the direct needs of our citizens- families, adults and youth,” the center closed their report. “Careful strategic planning is necessary to equip our county’s workforce system with measurable performance goals and objectives that will produce successful outcomes and empower individuals with resources to enhance their knowledge and technical skills to strengthen them, their families and the community.”
Copyright 2016 by Womack Publications