Thursday February 14, 2013

NEAL P. GOSWAMI

Staff Writer

BENNINGTON -- A group of education, planning and development officials are planning a series of events in the coming months aimed at boosting the workforce in the area.

A health care summit has been planned for next month that will avail area residents of discussions about health care careers. The forum is designed to provide a pathway from entry level positions to advanced degree jobs, according to Jeanie Jenkins, coordinator of academic services at Community College of Vermont in Bennington.

"The purpose of the health care summit is to highlight the opportunities in health care in the community," Jenkins said. "It's designed to be a forum similar to what we do with composites. We bring in people who can talk about opportunities in the area and then give people opportunities for moving into these pathways."

Jenkins said the summit will also highlight other ancillary positions in health care, such as office managers and accountants. Information about a Licensed Nursing Assistant program, expected to be launched at the Career Development Center in the fall, will also be presented, she said.

The summit is a collaborative effort by the Vermont Department of Labor, Community College of Vermont, the local technical school and local health care employers.

A career week will be held the first week of April that will bring together students, residents and local employers. Bennington County Industrial Corp. Executive Director Peter Odierna said events are still being added, but the week will include plant tours and having local business leaders speaking directly to area students about career opportunities.

"The idea is really to celebrate business and education partnerships and all of the neat opportunities for career opportunities in this community," Jenkins said. "It's really broad-based and designed to engage everyone from toddlers to grandparents."

Odierna said a recent report showed that the average manufacturing wage in Vermont is $52,000 per year. Manufacturing jobs now require advanced training and can provide upward mobility, he said.

"Really what we want to do is highlight the progression that's available because most companies here do have a policy of promoting form within," he said. "We really want to drill down and look at these opportunities."

Wendy Morse, with the Vermont Department of Labor, said the career week events are aimed at providing real information about career opportunities for local residents.

"Essentially, what we're trying to do is de-myth that Bennington has nothing to offer and that there's no jobs here," she said. "We see it on this side of the fence that there are a ton of opportunities here and so we're really trying to de-myth what is so commonplace out there."

Finally, a second forum on the local composites industry will be held in June. A handful of companies are creating carbon fiber products, including medical devices, auto parts and components in defense items used by the military.

Last year's forum produced immediate results, sparking interest in a composites class offered by the CDC. The interest in young residents was encouraging, Odierna said.

"A lot of what we're talking about here is long-term in nature so we're not going to see, in many cases, immediate gratification from our efforts. But, what I can say is that one of the most encouraging things from last year's public forum was the amount of young people who were there," he said.