Feb. 25—There are jobs available in the Hazleton area and there are educational opportunities to train people for these jobs. But students and parents don't know about these opportunities, so a new program is being set up to tell them.
A Greater Hazleton Red Carpet forum was held Wednesday on Zoom, detailing a workforce study done by the Institute for Public Policy and Economic Development at Wilkes University, a partnership of 13 higher education institutions in Northeast Pennsylvania and the business community.
Terri Ooms, the institute's executive director, said there is a disconnect of information across Pennsylvania, which she said is "a barrier for students getting family sustaining jobs, and finding the right fit for them essentially in a professional career."
"Students and parents need more information on available career opportunities about post-secondary education and training, and financial assistance," she said. "There needs to be more interaction between businesses and schools in an effort to help educate students."
On top of that, the workforce is beginning to suffer from "replacement demand," where people retiring are not being replaced by new workers at the rate they are retiring.
"As we look at workforce development for our future, it is extremely critical that all sectors work hard together to retain workers and to attract new workers to the region," Ooms said.
It is a community problem, and everybody has to work together, Ooms said.
"We need to work together to address gaps in soft skills, communication skills, to increase the awareness and availability of career opportunities, technical training, certification and other post-secondary opportunities," she said.
Ooms said there needs to be "a central repository or point of contact" to connect employers with students.
"There has to be an ongoing collaboration between businesses, community groups and schools to ensure not only information is shared, but also the curriculum design is in line with what business needs," Ooms said.
The central repository
Jocelyn Sterenchock, economic development director for CAN DO, said there is an answer to a central repository.
That central repository is a new marketing campaign called, "Hazleton Works. Learn Here. Earn Here."
"Students don't realize they have access to information," Sterenchock said.
The program has been devised by Posture Interactive, a firm that specializes in "home-brewed" web development. The marketing campaign consists of graphic design, video content and a website where there will be a central repository of information, said Joey Zarcone, Posture International's marketing director.
"All the opportunities you need are in the Hazleton area," Zarcone said. "You can get the training you need here, you can get the job here, and you can have a wonderful life here. It's that awareness that people don't know that we really need to get out there. It will bring all of the resources together into one centralized place."
The campaign will be marketed via billboards and video that can be used online and in TV commercials, Zarcone said.
Kathryn Bondi, Posture Interactive's digital design manager, said the campaign will tell the stories of real people along the entire employment spectrum — those who are returning to work, those that are still high school students not sure of their next step, and the parent or adult re-entering the workforce.
The campaign will be bilingual. Sterenchock said the website will not be launched until mid-March.
Sterenchock said she is looking for businesses who will allow the team to come in and gather content for the website, including taking photos.
Ooms said the study consisted of in-person, online and telephone interviews of business, education and community leaders. One question asked the business community to identify the most difficult job to fill by job title. The primary sectors found were manufacturing, educational services and construction.
The survey also asked businesses to identify starting wages, which ranged $13.75 to $29.75 per hour, an average of $17.70. Transportation, warehousing and manufacturing are the top three, respectively, in job opportunities in the Hazleton area, Ooms said.
Local businesses and industry want basic computer skills, and people who are both English-speaking and Spanish-speaking.
"For soft skills, there is a significant demand for employability skills — work ethic, hard work, being a cooperative team player, and also a demand for strong communication skills both written and verbal," Ooms said.
Employee referrals is the primary method for job recruiting, followed by online advertising, Ooms said. Collaboration with schools has been a problem.
"There hasn't been a lot of that in the past," she said. "In discussions with business leaders, they've all indicated there is a renewed interest because they realize a tool like this will help them with recruitment. They are concerned with how to go about the process, and they are also concerned about the internship and apprentice programs."
The study also showed students or potential students are challenged by financial resources, transportation and language barriers.
"There is a need for community organizations' assistance to schools generated to help intervene help faculty and parents to help educate students," she said.
One of the community organizations that can help — and was a partner in the study — is Partners in Education.
"PIE works with business and community partners to bridge the gap between school and the workplace, help the future workforce explore careers for valuable jobs skills and make meaningful professional connections with the ultimate goal of continuing to feed that pipeline of individuals to stay, work and grow in our community," executive director Cathy Colangelo said.
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