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204 Broad Street
Martinsville, Virginia 24115
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Education, business ties pushed
Monday, September 3, 2012
The Martinsville-Henry County Economic Development Corp. is working to coordinate discussions and programs between industry and education.
“We are not educators,” said Mark Heath, president and CEO of the Martinsville-Henry County Economic Development Corp. “Our job is to make sure industries, the workforce and educators are talking to each other” to align college/training/certification programs to the jobs that are available.
That alignment did not always exist with training programs funded with Trade Act money, Heath said. “We need to get that more in line with what is needed. We’ve got to get the programs matched up with” the skills that are needed here, he added.
“We feel that we have the responsibility to help create these training programs” and get the local workforce prepared for employment, he said.
To do that, the EDC is helping coordinate discussions between industry and educators in a number of ways, including industry tours, he said.
For example, more than 30 Martinsville High School students enrolled in the New College Institute’s Academy for Engineering and Technology recently toured Commonwealth Laminating, Heath said.
The EDC also helped coordinate a tour at the new Rolls Royce facility in Lynchburg for local school superintendents, their assistants and others.
“We let them see what kinds of jobs are out there and what kinds of skills” are needed, as well as some of the types of modern manufacturing equipment so that workers can be trained on and/or certified to operate the equipment, Heath said.
“We also are working with the NCI board and other educators on summer internships and apprenticeships programs for students,” he said.
Also, some industry executives are going back to school — literally — to determine what classes are available and what may be needed, Heath said.
The EDC also is developing an ad campaign that will compare the quality of life in Henry County and Martinsville with university towns such as Blacksburg, Harrisonburg, Atlanta and Charlotte.
“We are doing that to help recruit younger and older people alike, and help them to understand that a $30,000, $40,000 or even $50,000 salary” would ensure a better quality of life locally than in other larger, more expensive areas, Heath said.
Also, a new jobs website is being developed, he said. Employers can post vacancies online, along with all the requirements and/or training that is needed and where it is available.
Heath said different segments of the community are receptive and willing to participate in the EDC’s efforts.
“Good things exist, and the schools and colleges are stepping up to the challenge,” he said.
“But one thing I learned from the Caterpillar project in Georgia” is that Martinsville and Henry County is not alone, because “they are going through the same things there,” he said. “They are starting in the ninth-grade there to train skill sets” that will lay the foundation for future training in advanced manufacturing and other areas.
As that future continues to unfold and the anticipated reshoring continues, Heath said it is essential to prepare workers because the manufacturing jobs “are not going to come back looking like they did when they left.”