NORWICH — Students from several Chenango County school districts learned about the many job opportunities in the area last week during a Workforce Hiring Initiative event held at the Norwich High School (NHS).
The event was a collaboration between the Norwich City School District (NCSD) and Commerce Chenango to connect students with businesses in the county and show them the many opportunities available to them upon graduation.
"Scott Ryan and some of the other superintendents locally came to me with a request to try to hold a hiring event that was aimed at kids that were getting out of school in the next year that needed a job, and there’s certainly plenty of opportunities here in Chenango County," said Commerce Chenango President and CEO Sal Testani. "We started working with the different districts and several of our area businesses and ultimately came up with an event that Norwich was willing to host. We invited all the area schools to come to it and it turned out to be a really nice day."
Businesses who attended the event included Achieve, AutoZone, Baillie Lumber, Chenango County Personnel, Chenango County Sheriffs Dept., Chentronics, Chobani, City Of Norwich, CDO Workforce, GE Aerospace/Unison, Golden Artist Colors, Lowes, NBT Bank, New York State Veterans Home at Oxford, NYCM, Rentals To Go, Securitas, Springbrook, The Raymond Corporation, UHS-Chenango County Memorial, US Postal Service, and Visions Federal Credit Union.
The event was also open to all school districts in Chenango County, and several were able to attend with their high schoolers.
"I think the learning that has occurred as a result of it is, working with Commerce Chenango and other superintendents, to think about how we partner with business to push into the classroom to start talking about more than just exposure, to what jobs exist in Chenango County," said NCSD Superintendent Scott Ryan.
"Not only resume building, but really how do businesses address sort of a deficit in a skill set of a potential candidate? What supports do these businesses have in place for kids right out of high school? Because I think it’s just not on the radar. As much as we try, it’s not on the radar of a lot of our kids that are not moving on to higher education."
NCSD is actively working to help students prepare for the workforce, whether they plan to attend college, trade school, or find a job after graduation. Ryan said as part of their capital improvement project slated to begin in the spring of 2024, the Norwich High School will be revamping their Student Services area into a new College Career Center.
"We’re creating intentional exposure and the opportunity for kids to really understand how to connect with businesses as much as we do with higher education," he said. "When you were in school, you got called down to student services because there was a college that wanted to talk with you, right? That kind of thing. The question is, why aren’t we doing that with business? Not just local business, but any business? And it can be virtual as well. So we really have to expand those opportunities that we’re providing kids."
The Norwich High School is also focusing on providing courses where students can learn soft skills, or as Ryan calls them, "essential skills," that can be beneficial in any career.
Through their capital project, NHS will be creating facilities that "mirror what kids will be asked to do when they hit the workforce," according to Ryan.
"The areas that we’re focusing on are promoting opportunities for problem solving, critical thinking, communication, collaboration, and all our facility upgrades are really not about program, but really what we’re asking kids to do in that environment," he explained. "Really zooming in on the skills that will be necessary and applicable for many 21st century jobs."
Additionally, Testani and Ryan are working with counselors in the high school to educate them on local businesses and career opportunities, so they can further pass on the information to students approaching graduation.
"They have dozens of colleges that come through their doors to talk to students. They have very few businesses that talk to them about the opportunities. So [Ryan] and I and others are working together with the school counselors so that they too understand what the opportunities are so that they can speak to kids about what it is that might be out there for them, and where their interests might lead them," said Testani.
"We’re really trying to become integrated with the schools, and I’d like to do it with all the schools in the district in any way we can."
Both NCSD and Commerce Chenango plan to continue offering Workforce Hiring Initiative events at the school once or twice a year.
Testani said he hopes the events will show students just how many opportunities are available in the area, and encourage them to stay local after graduation.
"We have great opportunities here," he said. "I think it’s an aspirational thing for kids to just see what’s out there and if one or two of these kids are inspired by the opportunities, and whether they go on to college and get a degree or whether they go directly to work for one of these companies, it can't do anything but help them."
To further support students entering the workforce, Testani said he also wants to hold a 'National Hiring Day,' to celebrate students landing a job.
"What I really plan on doing, hopefully two or three of these kids will get jobs and we’ll do a National Hiring Day just like they do a National Signing Day. We’ll go celebrate those kids with balloons at the places of employment," said Testani. "Hopefully build some momentum and show employers what’s possible and show kids what’s possible. That’s exactly it. We hope to do it every year, make it bigger and better."
"Companies really are taking a different approach with respect to, you don’t have to come to us with all of the technical skills. We’ll train you in those. What we’re looking for is work ethic, the ability to collaborate, the ability to communicate," said Ryan. "I think it’s just another opportunity for Norwich City School District in particular to truly partner with local business, not just in Norwich but certainly in the county as well. And we are a committed partner in that."