Adult training helps bolster Darke County workforce

Heather Meade Staff Writer

December 22, 2013

DARKE COUNTY - Adults across the county are getting a second chance to boost their skills, while fulfilling a much needed gap in the skilled workforce population, as they graduate from adult education courses like STNA training, welding certification, and a general skills course called Taking Charge of Your Life.

“The good news in this whole region is that we’ve got all these jobs coming in. It’s not just Darke County, though Darke County is doing exceptionally well…” said Jon Heffner, ProtoGen Group, LLC, the company contracted for adult training in Darke County. “The bad news is, we’ve got all these jobs coming in, where are we going to get the people to fill the positions? That’s a challenge. We’ve got a number of people who have made it through our adult training classes, and we’ve got more coming…we’ve just got to keep feeding them through the pipeline, and keep that positive trend.”

Community leaders, such as Darke County commissioners Diane Delaplane and Mike Stegall, and Greenville City Council member John Burkett, are congratulating students and encouraging them to continue furthering themselves for the sake of their families and their community.

It’s been a collaborative effort of Partnering for Progress (P4P) and all of it’s partners including local governments, schools and businesses, said Marc Saluk, Darke County Economic Development director. Adult workforce classes help address the needs of the under-skilled and underemployed, Saluk noted, part of the 3-pronged approach being taken through the P4P initiative.

“Since the beginning we’ve been using the same 3-pronged approach…we’re training the underemployed and under-skilled to get more skills into the general workforce, and more people into companies with good career opportunities,” said Saluk. “…One of the challenges we consistently have to be aware of is that we only have so many people in Darke County,” he continued. “We need everyone in the field, everyone needs to be trained and working. Getting the folks we do have to their maximum potential is the main weapon we have to combat a workforce shortage.”

There are the other two prongs - incumbent training for those already in positions with companies but who need to upgrade their skills, and student training, which takes several years to pay off, said Saluk.

The adult training programs not only help those who have needed assistance from Darke County Job and Family Services or who have been in contact with adult probation services, but it also helps the schools and Economic Development office implement efficient programs for students, Saluk stated.

Partnering for Progress is contracting with ProtoGen Group, LLC to provide training fitted to Darke County’s needs, said Saluk. ProtoGen not only helps build the training courses, but they follow students’ progress up to a year after job placement, said Jon Heffner, ProtoGen.

“I think it (training) gives them almost a new lease on life,” said Heffner. “We’ve had so many go through Taking Charge of Your Life who indicated that they weren’t thrilled with being there, but it made a big impact on them - it gave them the hope and the confidence they didn’t have before.”

The Taking Charge of Your Life graduates read mission statements the day of their graduation, most citing wanting to be better parents, better sons and daughters, and better significant others as a reason to be better themselves, while others declared their determination to find and keep a job, stay off of drugs, and spend more time with their families.

“When a person gets any kind of job, if they’ve been unemployed or had problems in the past, that’s a good thing,” said Heffner. “But it’s a better thing when they can get an in-demand job with a future and financial security for themselves and their families.”

Welding graduate Candice Bowers said that welding was something she’d always wanted to do, because her father was a welder, and despite the circumstances, she was glad for the opportunity to learn a new trade, she said.

“I got involved through the courts - I can’t say I’m proud of that, but it did lead to this, and hopefully a better job,” Bowers commented. “It’s a great program, and it’s worth it - it’s worth the work, this is a good opportunity for anyone to change their life.”

Corey Kauffman, another graduate of the welding course, said he wanted to better his life for the sake of his children.

“My probation officer asked if I wanted to do it, and I saw an opportunity to learn a new skill so I can hopefully get a good paying job and turn my life around to make a better life for my kids,” Kauffman noted. “After 10 years out of school, it was a little overwhelming…but I got used to it pretty quickly, and I really did enjoy it. I had a lot of fun.”

The various entities currently offering adult training will continue to offer training in the future, and Saluk reported that incumbent training is also taking place in local companies. Saluk hopes to continue training students, the under-skilled and underemployed, and incumbent workers to build a stronger workforce for Darke County and the western Ohio region as a whole.