Fall targeted for initiative to make Westmoreland students career-ready
An initiative to better align Westmoreland County's education system with employers' needs for highly skilled workers should be ready for implementation this fall — an effort officials hope will improve the local economy, a workforce development leader said Tuesday.
“We have been pushing each other to have a viable model up and running for the next school year,” Gennaro R. Piraino Jr., superintendent of Franklin Regional schools, told about 260 people at the annual Economic Growth Connection of Westmoreland luncheon at St. Vincent College.
Piraino is chairman of the Westmoreland County Forum for Workforce Development, a 3-year-old group that includes representatives from the county's 17 public school districts and five colleges, the Westmoreland Chamber of Commerce and leaders from business, industry and county government.
The forum proposes a three-pronged approach to meeting employers' needs for skilled workers:
• Enhance career education and exploration so students get real-world experiences, possibly through mentorships or internships.
• Help students understand college and career pathways — where their interests lie and the career opportunities for them. Some students could earn industry credentials, while others might earn a two-year associate's degree or gain credits toward a degree.
• Create opportunities for students through businesses for internships, externships and apprenticeships that will help them enter the workforce.“We need to create a system where all students are highly prepared, regardless of ZIP code,” Piraino said.
The education and business communities cannot meet their objectives by operating independently; a joint effort is needed to “create a viable and successful pipeline (of workers) to the county,” Piraino said.
The forum has received the backing from county school districts for a $5,000 contribution for three years to support workforce development activities. The Norwin School Board on Monday approved a $5,000 annual allocation to support the initiative.
The organization will seek financial support from businesses as well as support for the program through internships or job shadowing experiences, said James Smith, president of Economic Growth Connection.
“When the (school) districts are putting skin in the game ... the time is now,” for the business community, Smith said.
While similar initiatives in the state have collapsed, Smith said the county's workforce development forum has created a unique education-employer model. Smith said he believes their efforts have a much better chance of succeeding than others because of the people involved.
Westmoreland's forum is led by school superintendents and heads of all of the agencies — the decision-makers.
“We have worked for a long time to build collaboration and are not trying to force any particular technique on anyone,” Smith said.
Joe Napsha is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 724-836-5252 or email@example.com.