How a new program works to get students ready for jobs in Centre County

South Hills School introduced the CBICC’s CentreReady program on Wednesday, Jan. 16, 2019.
South Hills School introduced the CBICC’s CentreReady program on Wednesday, Jan. 16, 2019. adrey@centredaily.com

It doesn’t matter where you are in Centre County — work ethic, manners, teamwork, communication, critical thinking and understanding supervision are perhaps the six most elusive skills in the workforce.

The Chamber of Business and Industry of Centre County spoke with more than 60 companies in the county and found that businesses are finding it difficult to find employees with those traits.

The CBICC said 44 percent of businesses said technical skills were lacking, while 36 percent said the aforementioned “soft skills” were lacking.

In response, the CBICC has partnered with all five county school districts, Pennsylvania CareerLink, Central Pennsylvania Institute of Science and Technology, Private Industry Council of the Central Corridor and South Hills School of Business and Technology to launch the CentreReady program.

CBICC President and CEO Vern Squier said a school counselor or academic adviser can help sign up a student for the program. Once students are enrolled, they’re monitored for their proficiency in the six core attributes.

The CentreReady certification can be achieved upon graduation, as well as those who are continuing their education.

Squier said the designation serves as the “local business community’s seal of approval” and demonstrates to potential employers that the candidate is proficient in those areas.

South Hills Community Outreach Director Jeff Stachowski and Director Mark Maggs introduced the program to the school’s students on Jan. 16. Stachowski said the program is “perfect” for the student body.

“This CentreReady initiative, from our perspective, is more of a way to create value within our students in employers’ eyes because really our main goal here is to prepare students for actual jobs that do exist,” Stachowski said.

South Hills School community outreach director Jeff Stachowski introduced the CBICC’s Centre Ready program on Wednesday, Jan. 16, 2019. Abby Drey adrey@centredaily.com

Centre County, however, isn’t much different from the rest of the country.

There were 6.6 million job openings at the end of November, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The Associated General Contractors of America also reported 70 percent of the nation’s construction companies are struggling to fill open positions with qualified employees.

And the deficiency isn’t specific to any one area in Centre County, according to Squier.

He said businesses throughout — whether from more populated areas like State College or less populated areas like Philipsburg — face similar challenges because the county has a “regional economy” that welcomes more than 12,000 workers on a daily basis from the counties that immediately surround Centre County — Clearfield, Clinton, Union, Mifflin, Huntingdon and Blair.

A 2014 economic development study also found Centre County historically has an unemployment rate lower than those same six counties.

At the time of the study, Centre County’s unemployment rate was 5.3 percent, while the next closest was Union at 6.5 percent. Clearfield had the highest unemployment rate at 8.7 percent.

The Centre County Planning and Community Development Office also prepared another economic development study a year later and found that living wage employment was the No. 1 issue.

The office then outlined goals to address each issue, which seemingly could be CentreReady’s mission statement — research and prepare detailed labor force reports that can be used by businesses, economic development agencies, learning institutions and municipal officials.

Bret Pallotto primarily reports on courts and crime for the Centre Daily Times. He grew up in Lewistown and graduated from Lock Haven University.