Representatives from Workforce Wayne hosted an informative question and answer meeting recently in which Lyndsay Birmelin, the Executive Director of Workforce Wayne, spoke of the Northeast Innovation Alliance and a keynote speaker, Dr. Paul E. Harrington, Ph.D. spoke of the competitive job market and the importance of experience.

— Representatives from Workforce Wayne hosted an informative question and answer meeting recently in which Lyndsay Birmelin, the Executive Director of Workforce Wayne, spoke of the Northeast Innovation Alliance and a keynote speaker, Dr. Paul E. Harrington, Ph.D. spoke of the competitive job market and the importance of experience.

With the current job market, Harrington said, depending on how jobs were affected by the recession and the job market crash, the significance of a college degree over a high school diploma varies. He said students who graduate high school now, are aware of what a college degree can do, but they are cautious because of the cost for a higher education.

Plus, when there is a slack in the job market, kids who just graduated college are unable to find a college market job and so rather than being unemployed, Harrington said the graduates will be underemployed.

He called the search for a job, “a game of musical chairs,” because people are competing to see who can ultimately do better. “Who can grab that job first and that’s the job market environment that we’re operating in,” he added.

The significance of an education, Harrington said, is that it can improve someone’s “human capital proficiencies,” which are a person’s cognitive abilities. Those proficiencies, he added, are powerful assets that influence where an individual can end up in life.

The difference between all occupations though, he said, as employees move up the ladder, their cognitive abilities will have to improve. But, the employee’s behavior doesn’t need to change because “behavioral traits are the building blocks.” He explained that if someone doesn’t have the “fundamental behavior traits, then you don’t get gains with respect to occupational ability.”

New name, scope

Director of Workforce Initiatives at Workforce Wayne, Lyndsay Birmelin, spoke of how the organization is transforming into a regional entity called Northeast Innovation Alliance. A nonprofit organization, the Alliance is comprised of businesses, education, government, economic development, employment services and community entities that serve Wayne and Pike Counties.

The organization, she said, is working towards an effective workforce delivery system to support career opportunities, strengthen the skills of the workforce and support lifelong learning. Today, she said, “we are strong and thriving.” She explained that the Alliance has secured more than $800,000 in grant funding for the region.

Birmelin said that over the years 300 individuals have been trained and a new shared training facility in the Hawley Silk Mill is available for county businesses to use through a $100,000 local share account grant, and a $95,000 USDA enterprise grant.

The 600 square foot space in the Mill has 16 wireless laptop and computer stations that will be used by training providers, individual businesses or education providers. She called the new facility a “really exciting opportunity” for area agencies because it is the first shared learning space in Pike and Wayne Counties for use by businesses or education providers.

The organization’s progress, she said has been part of a comprehensive strategy to improve workers’ skills, connect businesses to education and improve the region’s economy.

Career center

Workforce Wayne's biggest accomplishment over the past year, Birmelin said, has been receiving the Community Education Council status under the Pennsylvania Department of Education’s school code. The organization, she said, has been actively working towards the designation since 2009.

There was talk about what a career center could mean for the area. Harrington suggested rather than having a career center, make it a high school that combines academic and occupational programs. If there was a school, he said, it could have its own identity and brand.

With an integrated occupational and educational facility, he said there is a sense of activities that will allow kids to “get a focus and direction and brand new identify for themselves and their educational institutions.”

Mary Beth Wood, the Executive Director of Wayne Economic Development Corporation (WEDCO) spoke of how people who are part of Workforce Wayne or Northeast Innovation Alliance, “need to transform our economy to create that upper mobility.”

By doing this, she said, better jobs will be brought to the area. By taking a systematic approach to improve the area's economic development, interdependent organizations can work together to transform the area's economy.

When Workforce Wayne was first established, Wood said, there wasn't a charter career link within the county, but rather than rebuilding something that was already here, “we were able to leapfrog that model and move ahead into an innovative model,” she explained.

Sterling Business Park

Discussing the Sterling Business and Technology Park in Sterling Township, Wood said, “technology is going to take geography off the table,” as a two county wide broadband initiative that will, “leapfrog our area and has to be critical to transformation.”

Of the park, Wood said, “we quite frankly need to do a better job in telling a story.” She explained that almost $9 million has been invested in the park, but if people are in the park, they don't see the $2 million waste systems that have been built.

Part of why the park isn't to known, Wood said, is because as a small economic development organization, getting funds has been a process. A $400,000 grant has been secured to start developing sites within the park this year.

There is another $400,045 grant to finish the road and entrance where additional utilities will be added. As a “critical infrastructure that’s in place,” Wood said it is ready and jobs will be created very shortly.

Business incubator space

As for the enterprise center, at this time, Wood said the organization is working with the state to create a “business incubator space,” which does not exist already in Wayne or Pike Counties. With the current technology center and broadband connectivity, she said things are currently working on a county wide wireless broadband network, which means that, “those are critical pieces of infrastructure that can work harmoniously, systemically to transform this region.”

Working with youth and developing career pathways, Wood said by the organization receiving the Community Education Council status, it was good because it was the first in 20 years. Now, there is also things happening in the school systems as the “word career is associated with it.”

But there is still work to be done, even though there is support from state legislators, including Representative Mike Peifer and Senator Lisa Baker. By gaining formal status, she said it, “gets us off the grant treadmill.” It was a “huge, huge accomplishment to have gotten that status,” she expressed.

The Career and Technical Center (CTC) studies have been completed, so now, Wood said it is time to go after the funding to make the project happen. With the help from commissioners, giving some direction to the strategic planning initiative, Wood said, talking about the components of the workforce is a little easier because they give the organizations some direction.

The meeting was held at Ehrhardt's Waterfront Banquet Center.

For more information about Workforce Wayne ( Northeast Innovation Alliance), visit online at www.workforcewayne.org; e-mail info@workforcewayne.org or call (570)253-5334.