Development

OneWorkSource head talks filling pandemic labor gaps

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PLATTSBURGH — In her first presentation to the Clinton County Legislature in nearly two years, North Country Workforce Development Board Executive Director Sylvie Nelson shared how the pandemic has impacted her organization’s services and focus.

VIRTUAL SHIFT

Like many other businesses, OneWorkSource centers operated by the board had to close when the health crisis began 18 months ago.

“We were very fortunate to be able to continue serving our clients either virtually by phone or email and, eventually, as time went by, we were able to service them through pre-set appointments,” Nelson said.

Some services, like job fairs, went virtual, and the board’s biggest partner, the state Department of Labor, implemented an online course through Coursera that enabled clients to continue receiving credentials.

The centers are now reopened to the public and continue to offer most services, though DOL-related ones remain virtual, Nelson said.

The organization is looking to modernize its services, in part by redoing its website so that it can be more interactive, such as by allowing clients to book appointments online, she added.

Nelson anticipates the workforce development board will go through a request for proposals process in the next month or so to look at cost and the virtual offerings the new site will be able to provide.

“We don’t think that this whole situation, unfortunately, is going to go away anytime soon.”

CHILD CARE

Nelson also pointed out how the pandemic highlighted issues with child care.

She noted how a lot of child care spots closed when providers shut down, restraining access for parents who wanted to re-enter or remain in the workplace when their younger school-aged children were learning remotely.

The North Country Workforce Development Board joined the Stand Up for Child Care Adirondacks advocacy group as part of an effort to find solutions.

Nelson sees her organization’s role as bringing the business side into the conversation.

“From my perspective, child care is a huge component of our local economy, and specifically our workforce development.”

OCCUPATION LIST

In response to changes brought by the pandemic, the board is updating its in-demand occupation list.

“We want to make sure that the list that we have is accurate and also we are going to try to identify the type of jobs that are pandemic proof as we move forward and also that offer a living wage,” Nelson said.

That way, OneWorkSource clients can have more meaningful experiences when they enter a position and receive training.

Nelson added that the board is working on a potential partnership with a German university that would give local high schoolers the opportunity to collaborate with their German counterparts on real-world problems.

“So they would tackle an issue that maybe a company does not have time to tackle, and then work together as a team on both sides of the ocean, virtually, and then try to bring a solution to that problem to that company,” she explained.

Work is ongoing to put together a team of students, and bring in other entities like Clinton Community College’s Institute for Advanced Manufacturing.

“If that goes forward, we would start with a team in February,” Nelson said.

ADDRESS CHALLENGES

County Administrator Michael Zurlo said the county and its community partners are always looking to bring jobs, people and businesses requiring those workers into the community. He asked Nelson if she was sensing any difficulties in that arena and, if so, how to address them.

Nelson said, unfortunately, that’s the reality, and that the pandemic compounded the problem.

She said it’s likely that many people who were looking to retire in a year or two decided to stay on when COVID hit, creating a workplace gap.

The workforce development board is working with local schools to try to get students to understand the opportunities available locally, in part by putting them in touch with employers who can inform them about job possibilities, pay and benefits.

Nelson added that her agency is working very closely with the state DOL, specifically on how their database can connect people with employers.

“But it is becoming very difficult, and so that’s why, for us, we want to really try to identify the type of job opportunities that are in demand, and then also try to solve the solution.”

She pointed to the current need in local school districts for bus drivers, and the focus on how to train more people into a commercial driver’s license (CDL) credential.

“Is there some kind of funding we can go after to try to bring more equipment, more training for more instructors to try to fill that gap so that our kids can get to school, our roads can get plowed? So those are the type of things we’re tying to work on.”

Email Cara Chapman:

cchapman@pressrepublican.com

Twitter: @PPR_carachapman

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