Thursday, July 12, 2007
Job training office struggles to stay alive
By SUE WATSON
With funding dwindling and office space in question, Betty Yates is reporting to workforce development partners in June and July on the last six months of progress and a proposed two-year budget.
Yates is executive director of the non-profit, collaborative workforce development group, Building and Development Commission,
The little office was established by local partners who wanted to keep workforce training and employment opportunities available in Holly Springs when the Mississippi Department of Employment Security closed its part-time office earlier this year.
Yates appealed to the Marshall County Board of Supervisors June 19 for help with two more years of funding.
In six months BDC Inc. has collaborated with Rust College, the City of Holly Springs, the board of supervisors, Marshall County Industrial Development Authority and Three Rivers Planning and Development District to build a grass-roots workforce development program.
As the contract for free office space and equipment runs out at Rust College, Yates said she will ask the city to provide two offices at the Information Technology building and locate there permanently. In the interim, the BDC is at the mercy of Rust College Community Development Corporation for office space and equipment, she said.
What the budding workforce development group needs most is permanent office space, some equipment and a few dollars for salaries, Yates said.
With collaborative arrangements with partners, Yates said eight individuals have trained and been certified as Certified Nurses’ Assistants, 723 applications have been taken from job seekers, about 146 have interviewed for jobs with local companies and 41 applicants have interviewed and taken jobs.
The program consists of short-term training for individuals for CNA and job applicant screening for local or regional employers.
Two new local companies are expected to be geared up and hiring soon, which will open the doors of opportunity for those out of work or displaced workers, Yates said.
Some companies need lots of employees for grand openings but may lay some workers off after getting the business launched.
Captain D’s in Holly Springs, one example, hired 20 applicants who were screened by BDC for the grand opening, then layed some off.
Randstad Staffing has placed about 15 individuals. Cargill Animal Nutrition in Byhalia interviewed a large number and hired two. Guardsmark Security hired five. Lund Precision Group hired two machinists and are expected to hire a large number when the company gets up to full operation in Holly Springs. KP Building hired two and Shoe Show in Holly Springs hired three to help get the business open. And Catapillar has four jobs in the wings for local job seekers.
Yates said more companies will have jobs in coming months due to growth in Holly Springs.
Yates said prospects for placements are looking good in the next six months.
Collaborative agreements and $30,000 in funding for salaries through IDA has made these early successes possible, Yates said.
She is asking for a two-year budget and a permanent home for the workforce development group to take and screen job applications and hold training classes.
Yates said she will need $160,000 the first year for salaries, office equipment and fixed assets and $46,000 to pay three salaries the second year.
“Right now our most critical need is stable office space,” she said.
BDC serves two important functions: takes job applications and identifies the applicants’ needs and goals; and connects local prospective employees with prospective employers.
“That’s our main thing,” she said.
She hopes the city of Holly Springs will build two more offices at the IT Center so the group will have permanent office space. Rust College is being asked to continue CNA training at the campus with Northwest Community College providing workforce investment money for CNA tuition and Rust faculty doing the training. And she is asking IDA and the Marshall County Board of Supervisors to contribute dollars for salaries and equipment for two years.
Yates is also seeking to add more short courses to its offerings - training for forklift drivers or welding. She also wants to set up a class for LPNs.
“We are saying, once they have their CNA, they should have an option to go further,” Yates said. “And we need a forklift to get that training started.”
Yates said case workers would like to do a better job of screening job applicants to see, for example, if an applicant has a valid driver’s license, is current on child support payments or has a clean slate with regard to drug and alcohol abuse.
If screeners know about preexisting conditions and problems, they can try to help the applicant with that before sending them out on a job.
Drug screening is important because often the job prospect works a while and if a drug screening is announced, they do not show up for work.
“Some of them work really well, but some of them have problems, too,” Yates said.
Employers with job openings can help by calling BDC at 662-252-9376, Yates said.
“We have experienced workers who call on us and their applications are here,” she said. “We are asking employers to call us and list openings with us. And if they have some training needs, we will try to set up the training.”
Bud Garrett, a retired educator in Byhalia, supported Yates in her plea for continued funding of the program.
“I would like the board of supervisors to help form a foundation to set up night school for adults and teen dropouts,” he said.
Garrett said he had read an editorial that said new companies were dodging Marshall County because of the high school dropout rate.
“To fix our schools would be a tremendous undertaking,” he said. “I think the problem is safety and teacher retention. We could build a new high school.”
Garrett called for year around school that would send children who are failing in K-6 to summer school so they stay on grade level.
“So, we can get a child from Pre-K through sixth grade at age 13. We don’t want 14-, 15-, and 16-year-olds in sixth grade,” he said.
IDA executive director Bill Renick believes that workforce training is a key educational card that the county and city have left in their economic development hand.
“IDA unanimously passed a resolution to do an extensive study of the educational system,” Renick said. “It’s a no-holds-barred, nothing sacred, everything on the table study of what you would do to fix the education system in Marshall County,” he said. “It came about through meeting with Rep. Kelvin Buck. The drop-out rate is higher than 20 percent: it’s more like 40 percent in Marshall County.
“So we decided we need to get to work on this now. It’s not something to fix overnight. It’s a very expensive study and would include the Holly Springs School System.”
Renick said he strongly supports the BDC non-profit workforce training effort because it makes Marshall County stand out with respect to other counties in the region.
Rep. Kelvin Buck followed Renick with remarks - first acknowledging the cooperative efforts and spirit of cooperation that is taking place in the county.
“All signs are there of cooperation and making hard decisions,” he said. “We are moving toward being a premier county. Education, workforce training and a lot of other things need to be done and the level of cooperation is there.”
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