CIRCLEVILLE — Pickaway County schools and businesses are picking up steam as they work together to find real-world solutions to preparing local students for the workforce. A group of about 100 leaders came together recently for the third in a series of Pickaway County Workforce Connections meetings to strategize about the future of local employment.
Workforce Connections is a partnership of Pickaway HELPS, Pickaway Progress Partnership (P3) and the Pickaway County Chamber of Commerce.
The most recent meeting was held at Ohio Christian University’s new Business Innovation Center, which P3’s Executive Director Ryan Scribner said was built for the sole purpose of getting young people ready to succeed.
“Number one, it’s an incubator and two, it’s a workforce development center,” Scribner said of the new center. “We think there’s going to be some really neat opportunities to take students here at OCU, students throughout the K-12 community, residents from the community, and equip them with skills, resources, access, awareness, and align them with local career opportunities here in Pickaway County and within the region.”
The Workforce Connections meetings began when Pickaway County educators and business people first gathered in 2016.
“In our various comings and goings, we were hearing almost constantly from business folks, ‘I’m just kind of frustrated with workforce availability, soft skills, and we can’t retain people,’” Scribner said of why Workforce Connections was born. “And then we heard from educators, ‘you know, we’re ready to go with all sorts of new ideas and curriculums but we need help to break through the doors of local businesses to make those connections.’”
Since that first meeting, the group has held focus groups and conducted surveys. Scribner said they learned that many locals remain unaware of regional career opportunities. In addition, he said business owners remain unaware of the resources available within the schools.
Scribner said there is also a “preparedness gap” among students heading into the workforce.
“Just basic employability skills; what’s needed to be a good employee. Working as a team yet still being able to be independent. Show up on time and be reliable,” Scribner said.
From those frustrations, Scribner said the group developed a new philosophy called Pickaway WORKS, which was introduced by Circleville City Schools Superintendent Jonathan Davis.
Davis said Pickaway WORKS is a way for educators and employers to bridge the readiness and career awareness gap between students and the 21st century workplace.
“We see a massive opportunity to improve our community as a whole; your business growth is beneficial to us,” Davis told the employers present. “We know we have the students with the talent, and we have the teachers with the passion, that if we give them the right directive, we will be successful for us and for you.
“The best of our best kids are leaving and not coming back. They can benefit your business locally while coming back to a place that they have tradition, history, and it benefits us as educators, too.”
Davis said one of the big lessons schools need to teach is “soft skills.” Those include proper workforce attire, being early, and looking someone in the eye when talking to them.
“That’s not in the curriculum the state tells us to teach, but you helped us understand we need to do a better job explaining those types of things for kids,” Davis said.
Davis said students also need hands-on experience working in teams through problem-based learning.
“Problem-based learning is something that we feel like as educators we can change what we do in the classroom so that we are growing these students to come and work for you, you’re going to see a change in the type of employee that you’re getting,” Davis said.
Christy Mills with Pickaway HELPS said some next initiatives for Pickaway WORKS include:
- Linking businesses with classrooms to allow students to help innovate and problem solve
- Educator and student tours of local businesses
- Speed rounds for students and educators to spend five minutes asking questions of a variety of business people
- Business highlight videos run in schools and online
- Job shadows/internships.
For more information on Workforce Connections, contact Christy Mills at firstname.lastname@example.org.