helming120Since taking office in January, it has been one of my foremost priorities to help support our business community throughout the Finger Lakes region. I have toured a number of businesses throughout our region to see all of the incredible work companies are doing, to better understand needs that are unique to their industry, and to identify how the state can help their companies thrive.

One of the greatest challenges facing companies is the lack of available or interested skilled labor. More and more, manufacturing and production companies are finding it increasingly difficult to find skilled workers, and as a result, it is hindering their ability to grow and maximize their full potential.

As the economy evolves and American jobs start coming back to our country, we are beginning to see the specialized job market grow and modernize. In effect, a number of well-paying jobs are becoming available to those who possess technical and trade skills that may not require a four-year degree. Many of these jobs are attainable through apprenticeships, on-the-job training, or vocational programs offered at local BOCES and community colleges. More than ever, we need to continue developing a skilled workforce and training people for high-demand jobs that benefit everyone.

The latest figures from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics show that about 68 percent of high school graduates attend college, which means that more than 30 percent are choosing a different route. Of those who do attend college, nearly 53 percent of recent graduates are unemployed or under-employed.

As a member of the Senate’s Task Force on Workforce Development, I’ve been working with my colleagues to address these very issues, and to date we have made positive strides. We’ve pushed to recommend and support policies that improve employee readiness, better meet the workforce needs of private sector employers, help connect job seekers with potential employers, retain workers seeking a new career, and help make the state’s economy more robust, dynamic, and resilient.

It is important that we raise awareness about workforce development starting at the high school level. Additional vocational and technical opportunities through local BOCES and community colleges will provide another option for students to build career and technical skills as they consider their future beyond high school. Students need to know there are employment opportunities available in the industries where jobs might have been left vacant due to outsourcing or replaced by advanced technology.

Earlier this year, I helped pass a significant package of bills aimed at boosting the state economy by training job seekers and existing employees for the job opportunities that are in demand. These measures will help eliminate the skills gap through educational investments in local BOCES and community colleges and by connecting workers with job creators.

One specific measure would direct the Commissioner of Education to develop guidelines for high school guidance counselors to use in facilitating student awareness and interest in apprenticeship, pre-apprenticeship, and career and technical education opportunities. This would mainly apply to the hardworking men and women looking to gain footing in the building, construction, manufacturing, and maritime trades where positions all across the state are often left unfilled.

Finger Lakes Community College is already working with local industry leaders on curriculum development so graduates can immediately fill job openings right here in our region. This important legislation will help promote a similar model throughout our region and the rest of the state. Programs such as these at local BOCES and community colleges can give prospective workers the technical experience they need to succeed in the workforce while saving them on the tuition costs of a four-year degree they may not need to secure a satisfying, rewarding career.

We have a great opportunity to connect students with those businesses, and as elected leaders, it is our responsibility to help support an innovative workforce that will drive the future of our economy.