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by Dave Gardner

As employers across the landscape of commerce deal with a mounting shortage of effective job applicants, progressive workforce development experts are searching for new ways to produce and deliver the vital human capital.

According to the think-tank known as World Education, more than 60 percent of all domestic jobs now require education beyond high school. Yet, nearly half of the total American workforce, totaling almost 90 million people with ages of 18 to 64, possesses only a high school education or even shallower educational credentials.

A common complaint of employers involves job applicants, plus existing employees, who are lacking in so-called soft skills such as communication, critical thinking and even regular attendance.

As this behavioral and educational gap rolls on, a common cry heard is, “Just whose problem is all this anyway? Is it government, the private sector, or the individual?”

Lifelong learning

Lucyann Vierling, executive director of the Wayne Pike Workforce Alliance, proclaimed lifelong learning, at multiple levels, has become the key for employment success. She added if people don’t understand the need for lifelong learning they will wind up with the dinosaurs in extinction.

“Only the drive and ability to keep learning will allow you to remain viable and competitive,” said Vierling. “This thirst for knowledge is not related to a socioeconomic situation. The traits that are also involved include encouragement, curiosity and excitement.”

According to Vierling, adult education doesn’t simply involve a desk, book and instructor. The process may involve alternative methods where the student can touch, see and feel what they are observing, and she applauds teachers at all levels who encourage this because a comprehensible approach to modern career preparation is vital.

“As educators we finally recognized that there are limits to what can be learned in a school setting, and that often the best way is with hands-on,” said Vierling.

Areas of popular adult study in demand by Vierling’s organization include computer technology, QuickBooks, government regulations and the evolving specifics of unemployment compensation workman’s compensation. Across the spectrum of employers, leadership training is also very big.

“It’s a harsh fact that when you get promoted within a business you don’t necessarily have vital leadership skills in place,” said Vierling. “Training in personal time management is also a biggie.”

This approach fits in with the role of an economic developer to create talent for the workforce, as well as the attraction of quality people. The drive must include instruction in soft skills for the workplace, although Vierling has grown sour when that term is used.

“I don’t like the term soft skills,” said Vierling. “I prefer we use essential life skills. This is more accurate when learning the behaviors needed to hold a job.”

Career coaching

The Wayne-Pike Workforce alliance is now utilizing the skills of Helene Mancuso, a certified workforce development professional and certified career coach. Her approach guides clients of the agency, with ages of 18 to 65-plus, on a journey of development as they identify values in careers and establish personal goals.

The system, as it unfolds, also helps with client self-discovery and matches potential workers to sustainable careers. Popular training programs the clients move into now include CDL, health and nurse’s aide, and computer network support.

“An employee must be comfortable with their work and have a relationship with that career,” said Mancuso. “They can love it or hate it, which will shape a great deal of how happy they are in life.”

The career coach consistently studies employment markets to assess the need for specific skills with modern jobs. With each individual client seeking employment, the coach usually will administer a career assessment skills test to verify the applicable training needed, and then search for funding to help pay for the instruction.

“We may dig deep into a client’s psyche for a job match,” said Mancuso. “Motivating them to then obtain the necessary training is important, and this can apply to people of all ages. We actually have partnered with AARP in Tobyhanna for senior employability.”

No fault unemployment

One of the most frustrating side-effects of the job losses that occurred during the Great Recession involved how millions of people lost jobs through no fault of their own as markets evolved and particular types of work vanished. Emotional wellness for discouraged former workers therefore has become a vital part of many coach-client conversations.

Practical factors must be confronted. With the rural and almost remote nature of Wayne and Pike counties, driving distances to a school for training can become a problem, especially during inclement weather in the icy higher elevations.

Collaboration with broadband to electronically bring cyber-training to the student therefore needs to be improved. Mancuso is hoping more access for instructional video conferencing with colleges will be developed, allowing clients to train while they visit her office.

Retaining existing talent within NEPA is also being addressed. According to Mancuso, to a large degree the lack of family-sustaining jobs within NEPA actually is the result of a perceived talent shortage here as employers seeking relocation avoid what they perceive as a thin workforce. Therefore, in some ways developers need to match a developing workforce to the potential availability of prospective employers.

The attainment of soft skills remains vital, and to help alleviate shortages the Wayne-Pike alliance is offering an instructional program called WorkKeys. This is a credentialing system that addresses soft skills and after completion certifies that the student has been exposed to the soft skills, such as critical thinking.

In some cases, job losses produce observable anger that must be dealt with before an applicant even knocks on the door of a prospective employer.

“Some applicants can be so down and so depressed that they can’t think beyond the next hour,” said Mancuso. “In these cases, one-on-one counseling helps a lot, but everyone is different.”

“An employee must be comfortable with their work and have a relationship with that career. They can love it or hate it, which will shape a great deal of how happy they are in life.”