Local leaders talk workforce issues and solutions, focusing on partnerships


BB2C round table

Local government, business, and educational leaders gathered recently in Greenfield to hear about Building Bridges to Careers (BB2C), a non-profit that is successfully combating workforce problems in the Washington County area. Speaking to the group are Allison Ricket, BB2C BECAN Director and Education Engagement Specialist, and BB2C Executive Director Tasha Werry (right).

By Angela Shepherd
Village of Greenfield

How do you describe the current workforce without using the word workforce? A group of local industry, community, and educational leaders recently took on that task while learning about an organization, Building Bridges to Careers (BB2C), that is doing just that, building bridges across the gaps between institutions to strengthen the workforce and the opportunities that young people have to draw from when deciding on their career paths.

Performing the task of talking about workforce without using the word helped highlight the fact that there is a language barrier between education institutions and the business community. 

Tasha Werry, a former teacher and executive director of BB2C, noted that teachers are teaching what they know, which is school. They go to school, then graduate and go to school to be a teacher, then go to school to work, and to stay a teacher, keep going back to school. That’s what they know. BB2C helps make the partnerships that help everyone speak the same language and understand the needs in the business community. 

Greenfield City Manager Todd Wilkin said his biggest takeaway from the meeting was the need for local schools, businesses, and government “to partner together to change the dialogue we are engaged in providing to students and future leaders of tomorrow.” 

The meeting was part of Greenfield’s Industry Round Table, which is held periodically throughout the year. At previous meetings, workforce issues have been a consistent part of the conversation. In the conference room at the Jefferson Street Business Center, the new home of Highland County Community Action’s Greenfield operations, local industry and education leaders gathered, this time with the added benefit of learning how another region of the state is combatting workforce issues.

What BB2C has built, according to Werry, has been according to the needs in the organization’s Washington County area, not to any specific formula. And as every area has different issues and needs, programs for Greenfield and the region may look different than what Werry and her colleagues described at the meeting. According to Werry, BB2C has received funding to be able to go to other places and share what they do and how they have done it, helping others interested to grow a successful and sustainable program.

From meeting discussion, every business person there spoke about how none of them are fully staffed, finding it difficult to find, and keep, the people they need. Businesses also talked about the strategies, which have had varying degrees of success, they have implemented to attract and keep more workers.

Something Werry discussed is what she has found as a gap in the community, that most people, let alone young people, don’t know what the signs outside businesses mean, much less what goes on inside the buildings that house those businesses. Connecting everyone provides that knowledge and that connection, it builds bridges across the gaps and allows for the opportunity for businesses to communicate with the public about what they do, and for young people to have the chance to experience what the businesses are about through things like internships. It not only engages the student in the possibility that this could be for them, it engages them in the community, too. And that works both ways.

Wilkin said later a key goal for the village administration is “to be a catalyst while also acting in a supportive role for our local industrial partners to ensure jobs remain available for our citizens.”

Having BB2C present to the local leaders is all part of the Greenfield administration’s intention to construct a workforce development plan that is part of a larger plan to revitalize downtown, develop the parks and capitalize on the natural assets of Greenfield, and develop housing so that those that work in Greenfield can live in Greenfield, too. The plan would not only aim to solve current workforce issues, but remove the obstacles by having a sustainable workforce plan that engages young people, businesses, and the community and supports the growth of the village as a whole. 

The high school has also been working to address preparing students for the future through the implementation of programs to engage students in the planning of their future. A program is being piloted next month with seniors that don’t have a plan for after graduation that will put them with community members affiliated with the students’ interests. Next school year that program will be implemented in full with sophomores. Another program to begin in the fall is Student Success Planning, which is a collaboration effort with Harvard University. 

These efforts can only be made more effective and beneficial with the partnerships extending well beyond the school.

Our district is excited to collaborate with local industry partners to grow and enhance the workforce in our area,” said Quincey Gray, superintendent of Greenfield schools. “I appreciated the opportunity to share about what our district is doing to ensure that every student has a plan,” adding that it was good that everyone was able to leave the meeting with some next steps in mind.

For all of it to come together and truly benefit not just students, but businesses and the community, it’s going to take time and lasting partnerships between educators, businesses, parents, and the local government to make this a sustainable program that enables the engagement of the youth in their future and the engagement of businesses with the community to undo the systemic issues faced today. 

We must partner with our businesses in our region to positively affect our workforce issues.  Without partnerships, we do not know a problem exists, and we do not know who can help fix them,” Wilkin said. “We've all heard the phrase, ‘a rising tide lifts all boats,’ and we will effectively raise the tide for Greenfield, Highland County, and our region through collaboration and development of a successful workforce development plan and strategy.”