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Education a bigger issue than jobs
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Glen Sink, executive director of the Center for Rural Virginia (CRV), spoke on education and workforce training Thursday at Patrick Henry Community College. (Bulletin photo by Sam Jackson)

Friday, June 28, 2013

By SAM JACKSON - Bulletin Staff Writer

The executive director of the Center for Rural Virginia (CRV) delivered a message here Thursday night that the area is unaccustomed to hearing.

The area’s primary challenge is not unemployment, said Glen Sink. “It’s education, workforce skills and health,” he said.

Sink visited Patrick Henry Community College (PHCC) to deliver an education/workforce training assessment of Southside Virginia. Among those in the crowd of at least 100 were educators, business officials and local and state government officials, including Del. Danny Marshall, R-Danville, and Del. Charles Poindexter, R-Glade Hill.

The CRV is made up of regional and economic sector partnerships and promotes innovation, entrepreneurism and regional economic development, according to its website.

The rural center also facilitates what Sink called the “rural caucus” of 66 legislators from rural areas of Virginia.

One purpose of the analysis, Sink said, was to give the data to local officials so they could come discuss the region’s challenges and further analyze local efforts to bridge the so-called “skills gap.”

Sink said the region has to cultivate an education “pipeline” from pre-K “all the way through the system, and you need to think about that pipeline.”

Sink said Virginia’s government structure “creates challenges for rural areas” in that regard.

Northern Virginia and the cities “have the votes, they have the economy” and since that political power on the state and federal levels sometimes doesn’t trickle down to sparsely populated areas, he said, it’s up to local officials to find solutions themselves.

To ensure success, Sink said, the region must have a solid education system that uses technology, has good teachers and prepares students to succeed at each level. “Do you have a childhood development system that ensures success?” he asked the gallery. “What elements are you missing?” Those questions only can be answered on the local level because every community has different needs, he added.

Another necessity, Sink said, is employer engagement, in which employers are involved in the local education system, both K-12 and college.

New College Institute (NCI) Executive Director William Wampler later added that each grade level has to work together to “prime the pump in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) subject matter so we can train the next generation, because if we don’t do it as a region, other regions throughout the country will do it.”

Wampler expressed gratitude for the relationship between NCI and PHCC and the roles they play in producing a trained work force, adding that relationship will grow.

“We must share equipment, we must share faculty, because we simply don’t have unlimited resources,” Wampler said. That also is why, he said, “I predict a very bright, robust future” for both colleges.

Dr. Angeline Godwin, president of PHCC, said the colleges are about the “transformation of lives. We’re really in the talent development business.”

In addition to the partnership with NCI, Godwin said every school in the region must combine its resources to “build a bridge between schools and employers.”

In recognizing the pipeline which Sink suggested the area build from school to employer, “we may have to hold the hand” of some students and “walk them through from school to employers,” Godwin said.

However, there are other “realities,” as Sink called them, that potentially could slow that process.

Sink called the overall health of the region a “behind the curtain” issue that is “hard for us to talk about,” specifically substance abuse problems and other health deficiencies.

“When we think of substance abuse problems, we tend to think of urban areas,” he said. However, “We have labor forces ... that are highly impacted because we don’t have a labor force that controls and manages their own health.”

Today’s global, technologically advanced marketplace needs a work force that can take charge of its health care, he said.

Godwin noted that 88 percent of PHCC’s students come from “undervalued” backgrounds — first-generation college students, minorities or economically disadvantaged — so the schools “need to believe in the students before they believe in themselves. We need to talk the talk” and promote “a positive message in the region,” she said.

Not all jobs require a four-year degree, Sink said. Fewer than 20 percent of jobs today require a high school education, 51 percent require a certification or license, and 29 percent require a bachelor’s degree or higher, he added.

However, he said, often people with higher education levels take jobs that don’t require that degree of education, which takes that job away from someone whose level of training would be better suited to that job, and that contributes to unemployment. For that reason, employers and schools must work together to build an education system that creates a work force with the proper skills suited to its needs.

Godwin touted the region’s efforts to be designated as a Certified Work Ready Community as something that will help align workers with jobs. Wampler added that the partnership between NCI and PHCC will continue to prepare the local work force for the challenges ahead.

“We need to continue to talk, and you’re going to see more tangible results because of it,” he said.


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