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Workforce development panel shares ‘pathways to success’

A panel of experts on workforce training shared their perspectives Tuesday on pathways to success for businesses and young people joining the labor force.

More than 100 people packed the Troy Recreation Center gymnasium to hear from the panelists at the “Pathways to Success” breakfast hosted by the Pike County Chamber of Commerce.

One of the major topics discussed at the breakfast was on-the-job training (OJT).

“OJT is designed for employers; there are employer-specific training programs,” said Terry Comer of the Alabama Department of Commerce. “Through the Troy Career Center, business can hire someone who does not yet possess all of the skills for the job, and the career center will reimburse up to 50 percent of wages while that employee is being trained.”

And all of the paperwork associated with providing this program is handled by the career center, Comer said.

Fox, of Cox Container, testified to the impact of the training at the local industry.

“I can cover half of a new employee’s wage up to 11 weeks while they’re training,” Cox said. “While you’re training an employee in those tasks, there is a cost associated with inefficiency. Participating in this program helps offset that cost while employees learn the skills needed to succeed at that job … Ebone Curry and her staff do all the work – all I have to do is provide a job description, do an assessment twice a week and cash the checks.”

An added benefit that is not as obvious, Fox said, is that employees who participate in the program are more likely to be retained than other employees.

Patsy Richards of the Office of Apprenticeship explained the benefits an apprentice program can have both to the employer and the employee.

“Employers get to drive the process and get to help us build a program,” Richards said. “The only way to work safely is to be trained to work safely. Apprenticeships also increase retention rates, reduce recruitment costs and establish a pipeline for skilled workers. For the apprentice, you get to earn while you learn. Then you get a skill people are willing to pay for. We provide education at no cost to apprentice. And it’s not just about getting a job, it’s about putting you into this career pathway. If you want to be an RN, we’ll take you from clinical nurse assistant to LPN to RN and wherever you want to go from there.”

One of the key pathways being created is a pipeline for high school students.

Former CHHS principal Brock Kelley, now head of the Alabama Department of Education’s workforce development sector, explained the importance of creating opportunities for students to find their path to the workforce.

“It’s very, very important to realize that when we’re talking about career pathways, we’re not talking about either-or college or straight to the workforce,” Kelley said. “We’re all going the same direction towards postsecondary education, whether that’s a four-year college, two-year college or on-the-job training. All three systems here in Pike County work endlessly to give you opportunities to go down those pathways. By taking advantage of these workforce essential courses, you are able to get school paid for and walk right out of high school and get a degree or enter the workforce.”

Adam Carson, representative for Lockheed Martin, praised the partnership between the manufacturer and CHHS, embedding the Lockheed training program into the workforce essentials course.

“It’s been a fabulous investment for us to,” Carson said. “Five students from the program have currently started working on our production line, earning a living with benefits, building a 401K. And there are stories behind the scenes where students are coming into senior year not knowing what they want to do with their lives and realizing this is something they could do. There’s a future here they didn’t know existed.”

And as much as the technical learning is important, Carson said soft skills such as coming to work on time and working as a team are just as important.

Fox expounded on how important those things are when he’s interviewing applicants for Cox Container.

“When I interview I’m looking for two things: attitude and attendance,” Fox said. “Sure I look at experience, but if you’re a student, not having any experience is understandable. Are they a team player, are they easily frustrated? Attendance is very important to me. How many days were they tardy; how many days have they missed? With great attitude and attendance, we can train them on whatever needs to be done.”

Donnie Glover of Sanders Lead Company talked about the company’s on-site Sanders University and how they are implementing workforce development initiatives.

“The biggest shortage is people with technical and maintenance skills,” Glover said. “We knew ESCC had a lot of stuff going on that could meet our needs so we met with them to establish this university. Our workers are excited about it and we’re looking to open it up to high school students soon.”

Pat Daugherty with the Alabama Department of Rehabilitation Services spoke about the importance of hiring people with disabilities and the benefits it can have for business and industry.

“Most disabilities are actually cognitive or learning disabilities,” Daugherty said. “Approximately 15 to 20 percent of your existing workforce has some sort of disability and may not know it. If you’re diagnosed you’ll be available for our services.”

The services include designing accommodations for employees with disabilities to ensure they are able to do their jobs.