In Bennington County this week people involved in economic development are focusing not on businesses, but on young people.
“Career Week” has elementary school children dressing up as who they want to be when they grow up. Community College of Vermont is offering free classes. And about two dozen professionals are meeting with high school students every day to talk about the education needed for a career.
But there’s another message for the county’s young people: please stick around!
At Mount Anthony Union High School in Bennington, employees from manufacturers, banks and other businesses are visiting classrooms and speaking to groups of students.
Aniko Balzer is Director of Human Resources at software developer Global-Z International. She told students that having a strong work ethic is key to getting hired.
“If we have somebody who can apply themselves in a job and they’re willing to work hard,” said Balzar, “then we will help them get that extra experience and education.”
Peter Odierna, the Executive Director of the Bennington County Industrial Corporation, says new applicants coming into the work force today often lack a work ethic and the academic credentials needed to fill the job openings in the region. He says despite a recent plant closing that leaves 150 workers without jobs, the County still needs a bigger pool of skilled labor.
“One of the greatest exports that the state of Vermont has is its young people,” said Odierna. “And one of the things we are really trying to do is to say ‘do not leave this community because of the perception there are no jobs here’. Because there are businesses all across industries and different sectors here in Bennington County that right now have job openings that they are having problems filling.”
One of the speakers yesterday was someone from the state government, Governor Peter Shumlin, who pointed out that Vermont has the 4th lowest unemployment rate in the United States.
“My message to all of you,” said the Governor, “is we don’t just want you, we need you! While we have now moved from the problem I had when I took office, which was not enough jobs to needing more workers to do the jobs that we have.”
The Governor added that to get the jobs students will need to continue to study after high school.
Among the students listening to the Governor was sophomore Olivia Reed. Her career goal is to join the Air Force. She says listening to stories this week of how people rose to success, has been inspirational.
“Because some people started off like really low, like maybe working at McDonalds,” said Reed. “And now they’re like business owners or the head of a business. And it was really like, I want that to be me some day.”
Reed is one of those young people who wants to leave Vermont. She hopes to go to a warmer climate and a big city. But her classmate Gretchen Sausville, who wants to be a teacher, has a different perspective.
“Honestly I’d like to come back here because it’s where I’ve lived my whole life,” said Sausville, “And it just seems right!”
Those promoting economic development in Bennington County say that kind of attitude is key to the region’s vitality.