‘Work Is Good’

During a recession, finding a job can be a hassle for many, especially those lacking a college education.

The Rotary Club of Jamestown held an employabililty summit at JCC’s Carnahan Center on Thursday to address this issue, as well as possible solutions that could expand the pool of employable adults in Chautauqua County. More than 70 people were in attendance, representing private businesses, government and nonprofits.

“This is a great opportunity for many public and private organizations with a vested interest in this important community issue to come together and discuss solutions,” said Bill Tucker, Jamestown Rotary Club president. “We look forward to a communitywide conversation that addresses the various roles of state and local government, local employers and local nonprofit organizations. This is a timely and important topic for the community.”

The event opened with an overview, provided by Tucker and Vince Horrigan, Jamestown Rotary Club past president, but quickly moved to a panel discussion to look at the job skills gap. The panel included Bill Daly, CEO of the Chautauqua County Industrial Development Agency; Paul Cesana, CEO of The Resource Center; John Osborne, operations manager of Cummins in Lakewood; Dave Johnson, industrial services manager of the Manufacturers Association of the Southern Tier; and Andrew Nixon, executive director of the Chautauqua County Visitor’s Bureau.

Johnson, who worked at SKF Aeroengine before taking his current position at MAST, pointed out that many baby boomers are coming to retirement age, leaving a plethora of jobs that need to be filled.

“We’re having trouble finding workers with the skill set to fill these positions,” said Johnson. “I’m talking everything from people on the floor running machines all the way up to engineering, sales, marketing and finance. There are going to be huge numbers of opportunities available. In Chautauqua County, we need about 300 people per year to fill these jobs right now. The scary part is that the U.S. Department of Labor numbers just came out for the Buffalo area, and over the next 10 years that area is going to lose nearly 50,000 workers to retirement. That’s almost half of their workforce. With an inner-city graduation rate in Buffalo of 44 percent, I’m not sure where they’re going to get the workers, and I’m scared they’re going to start looking here for them.”

Johnson continued, saying that while many young people may have the impression that if they quit school they will be able to get a job in manufacturing, the world has changed and that is likely not going to be the case.

“Manufacturers aren’t running drill presses anymore,” he said. “They’re running robotic machines and computerized machines. They need someone that can program the equipment, set that equipment up and fix that equipment if it breaks. There are huge opportunities coming up, but we need to know that those kids are prepared to do the jobs.”

According to Osborne, the attitude of many job applicants has also been a major roadblock in finding people to fill positions.

“We’re a team-based work system, so we’re looking for team skills and social skills so our workers can be productive team members,” said Osborne. “We want people to come forth with their ideas. We can’t have a person that thinks that all they have to do is come to work, put in their eight hours and go home. Another issue is attendance. Whether it’s lack of ability or lack of concern for the employer, a lot of people just can’t seem to get to work on time. Once we get past workers with attendance issues, we have a very good retention rate for our employees and we can do the training and development to make sure that they’re successful.”

Following the panel, attendees were invited to participate in a Q-and-A session with the members, during which Daly asked an unexpected question to the audience.

“Does anyone remember Faber College from Animal House?” Daly asked. “What’s the motto of Faber College? The motto of Faber College is ‘Knowledge is good.’ I think what we have to do is come back to a very simple concept – work is good. We need to start programs that teach people about business, about responsibility, about work. We’re way behind on this in New York state, and we need to work on that.”

A second panel was held shortly after to focus on solutions, including workforce readiness, training, placement and experience. This panel was staffed by Grant Umberger, director of continuing education at Jamestown Community College; Dr. David O’Rourke, district superintendent and CEO at BOCES; Capt. Pat Johnson, Chautauqua County Jail warden; Roberta Keller, executive director of Chautauqua Opportunities Inc.; Katie Geise, executive director of the Workforce Investment Board; and Marge Basile-Johnson, director of certification for temporary assistance at the New York State Department of Social Services.

The rest of the afternoon consisted of breakout sessions that focused on development of soft skills at worksites, public policy, workforce initiatives and effective support services, such as adult mentoring, transportation, addiction support and language education.

“I’m thrilled that this room is full because there are many critical issues that we have to deal with, but this has to be in the top three,” said County Executive Greg Edwards. “We need to do a better job of identifying the possibilities that are out there. We have to expose parents, guidance counselors and others who have an opportunity to influence younger people in their decisions to the idea that there are real opportunities out there. We need to address the challenges that some people have in finding transportation, child care and housing, along with the ‘live for today’ attitude that they may have.”

For more information about the employability summit, visit the Jamestown Rotary website at www.jamestownnyrotary.org or contact Tucker at 664-5115.