Main Street, Manchester Center
PHOTO BY HUBERT SCHRIEBL
From high tech factories, to main street stores and offices, to individual workshops and farms, the intelligent, resourceful, and responsible people of Bennington County ply their trades. Yankee ingenuity and industry are not forgotten.
Some of the things that make it easy to do business are:
- Communication and utility infrastructure for a complete range of business.
- Workforce of well-educated, loyal, and willing individuals who have chosen to live here with their families.
- Top-notch technical, professional, and practical support
- Easy access to transportation and urban centers
- Safe, clean, and scenic environment
- Active, collegial, and ethical business community
The Bennington County School and Workforce Partnership is a coalition of businesses, schools, colleges, training providers, economic developers, and relevant government offices all sharing a common mission: "To strengthen workforce quality, develop career opportunities, and foster a culture of lifelong learning in Bennington County."
The Partnership's vision is of "a Bennington County with a superior workforce and a community that values and supports learning for its own sake for all community members. This includes an outstanding coordinated system of education, training, counseling and information with employers, education and training institutions, and concerned officials and community representatives planning and monitoring the learning and workforce development processes. The community thus anticipates and actively pursues opportunities to promote high quality jobs and increased competitiveness for area employers through responsive training and education activities."
The Partnership was formed in the mid-1990s. It grew out of a strong sense that business and education leaders to should work together to nourish the area's evolving workforce so as to ready it for the new century.
The Partnership saw the need to center around a single "address" all umbrella organizations related to workforce development. This included the BCIC, Bennington County School-to-Work Initiative, the Bennington County Adult Education Council, and the Bennington County Career Development Center Regional Advisory Board. The active role of the local Department of Employment and Training was critical, as was the active support and participation of the public school districts, the Community College of Vermont, Southern Vermont College, Bennington College, the Learning Institute, the Tutorial Center, the local Department of Social Welfare, and similar organizations.
We quickly forged a common structure, and began supporting existing efforts to improve the workplace relevance of K-14 school activities, deepen and broaden all adult education activities, make welfare-to-work real, and strengthen technical education content and governance. Engagement of business expanded.
In carrying out its initial workplan, the Partnership and its members with only a one-person fulltime staff have in the last two years supported:
- Advocacy and input on productive regional use of hundreds of thousands of dollars in training and education grant funds
- Extremely successful high school field study programs with area employers
- Student mentoring and job-shadowing activities with area employers
- Professional development for school teachers and administrators with direct impact on improved institutionalized school-to-work programming
- Compilation of best practices manuals for school-to-work activities
- Development of student portfolios having direct relevance to after-graduation activities, whether work or secondary education
- Development of a career pathways database covering and linking area educational resources on all levels
- Computer education and training on various levels
- Facilitation of specific training solutions with individual firms
In addition, the Partnership has begun an ongoing process of strategic workforce development planning. The process initially focussed on getting first hand information from area businesses on workforce needs. The Partnership has extensively used the information gleaned from this dialogue in giving input on whether various proposed state grants and programs meet regional workforce development needs. A countywide education and training plan has now been drafted. The Partnership is also regularly called upon to review or directly administer various workforce development grant and subgrant activities directly involving business and education or training providers.
The Partnership workforce training and education plan focusses on the most critical workforce needs of the county's economy. The premise is that workforce development directly responsive to the needs of employers helps not only businesses and the economy, but individual careers. Our aim is to help schools and training institutions do their job more effectively.
There is wide consensus in the community that the following are strategic sectors of our economy: manufacturing, information-based business, hospitality and tourism, health and human services, and education. The plan thus addresses specifically the workforce needs of these sectors, as well as those that cross many sectors. One resounding conclusion of the study underlying the plan is that this community's traditional work ethic, productive workforce, and access to hundreds of thousands of workers in the region is a major advantage of doing business here.