'Central gatekeeper' needed for services

July 7, 2005

Editor's note: This is the final article in a four-part series on strategies proposed to improve the area's education and work force development.

Bulletin Staff Writer

As members of the Strategic Advisory Committee (SAC) can attest, planning an economic turnaround takes work.

The SAC's Education and Work Force Development Action Committee spent 10 months developing a plan to improve education and work force development in Henry County and Martinsville. A detailed 43 pages, the plan involves three strategies for change.

The third strategy outlines a plan to create new programs or institutions to promote work force education and training, said Rhonda Hodges, subcommittee chairperson. That follows the first two strategies, which were to increase the value of education in the community and to identify and establish work force education and training.

Three detailed recommendations and several other ideas are included in the strategy to promote work force education and training.

The first recommendation is to create a "central gatekeeper" to coordinate the area's employment and training services.

A gatekeeper would encourage collaboration among the various agencies that provide work force and education services. Its goal would be to make access to services easier for clients, increase efficiency, and create a system for monitoring research and evaluation, the plan states.

The Workforce Investment Board (WIB) is working to create a new facility for a one-stop employment center in the area, Hodges said. The plan suggests working with the WIB to make sure its services are not duplicated.

The next recommendation in the strategy is to create periodic forums in which local industry representatives and educators could talk about their needs and goals.

An example of this cooperation is the Principal for a Day program, which has been successful in other areas, Hodges said.

"Business and community leaders ... are actually in the schools for a day as principal," Hodges said. That way the leaders can see programs at work in the school and learn about the students' needs, she said.

The third recommendation is to begin an annual education and work-preparation forum featuring government agencies, schools, faith-based groups, the private sector, and others who offer education and work force programs.

The forum would encourage the groups to work together when serving their clients, the plan says. It suggests that the forum be structured like a trade show or a classroom where training programs could be demonstrated.

In addition to getting to know each other, forum participants would put together for the community a catalog or resource directory of area programs, the plan states.

In addition to these three recommendations, the subcommittee endorsed working to develop a four-year university in Henry County or Martinsville and promoting and expanding the contributions of Patrick Henry Community College.

The subcommittee's plan states that initiating teacher retention and recruitment strategies -- which was a recommendation of the Market Street Report -- would be outside its scope.

Hodges said the subcommittee members will begin to prioritize recommended projects this month.

"The good things about it is there are some of the recommendations that really won't require a great deal of funding," she said. "For others we'll have to try to find funds."

She said the SAC is behind the plan and will help the subcommittee stay on track as it begins implementing its proposals. Each recommendation includes the suggested steps to take as well as ideas for implementation.

"We didn't just want to put something forward and not know where we're going with it," Hodges said.

The next meeting of the SAC will be July 18.


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