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Fostering public-private cooperation critical goal of Gulf Coast gathering

Building a quality workforce conference planned

GULFPORT — Professionals from 11 southern states, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands have been invited to participate in Building a Quality Workforce in the Rural South, a Workforce Investment Act of 1998 conference planned July 26-28 at the Grand Casino.

Bo Beaulieu, director of the Southern Rural Development Center, one of the sponsors of the conference, said fostering cooperation between all the different private and public partners involved in workforce training is a critical goal of the conference.

“The success of the Workforce Investment Act will require all the different partners to come to the table to collaborate and coordinate activities related to this act,” Beaulieu said. “The conference will be the initial conduit for these team members to talk to each other and, hopefully, that conversation will continue once they get back to their respective states. It allows us the opportunity to pool talents across the region, and to give people workable solutions to bring back to their own states.”

Beaulieu said that the 1990s have been a good decade for the rural South. A growing number of people have acquired a decent education, job opportunities have expanded, and an influx of new residents — both young and old — has touched even the most remote corridors of the rural South.

“There is reason for optimism,” Beaulieu said. “At the same time, challenges remain considerable in many Southern rural counties, cities, and towns. Economic shifts are forcing many manufacturing firms, once the lifeblood of the South’s rural economy, to close or depart to overseas locations.”

People without a post-high school education, or who lack job-relevant training, are finding it more difficult to secure jobs paying decent wages. And more employers are seeking workers with problem-solving capabilities, technology-related skills and a spirit of dependability. Beaulieu said that, as a result, rural communities of the South are being forced to take a hard look at their workforces, and to devise strategies that will position them to be full partners in a global, complex economy.

The Workforce Investment Act (WIA) of 1998 is considered one of the most ambitious and comprehensive workforce education and training programs ever passed by the U.S. Congress. Beaulieu said it offers rural communities genuine hope that they can capture much-needed resources to enhance the quality of their workforces, both present and long-term.

“However, WIA cannot succeed without the active engagement and support of people and organizations at the local level,” he said. “Local governments, businesses, schools, agencies, churches, service/civic clubs, youth-serving organizations, parents, students, and others constitute the very ingredients of an effective workforce investment effort. Where do they begin? What job and workforce strategies make the most sense for rural localities? How do they develop the local partnerships that are vital to the building of a quality workforce in their communities?”

Those are the questions that will be explored at the regional conference planned in July. Other topics to be discussed will include gaining access to current information on workforce issues, forging new partnerships with key state and regional resources, discovering program models and tools that work, and building a community’s technology capability-these are the expected outcomes of this regional conference.

The conference will cover the following areas:

• Workforce investment policy. Examining the policy and program implications of the Workforce Investment Act of 1998, as well as welfare-to-work requirements.

• Rural labor market research. Highlighting current research on labor market issues in the region, and delineating the economic forces that are likely to shape workforce development efforts in the rural South.

• Community asset building. Uncovering the hidden skills and talents held by current and potential workers and learning how to translate these abilities into local economic development possibilities.

• Strategic planning and visioning. Learning the tools that can be used by local workforce investment boards and others to build a comprehensive workforce plan for their communities.

• Linking workforce development with economic development. Discovering innovative programs being developed to enhance workforce skills of rural people and learning about creative and effective strategies for increasing the number and quality of jobs in rural areas.

• Technology in the workplace. Examining how the technology capacity of rural communities and workers will become an increasingly important strategy for attracting good jobs to communities.

• Preparing youth for the future. Highlighting programs that better prepare at-risk and out-of-school youth for successful work experiences and career activities.

• Performance accountability and evaluation. Outlining strategies for evaluating the effectiveness of workforce programs, including methods for developing sound performance measures, assessing program impacts, determining the cost effectiveness of work-related investments, and continuously improving workforce investment programs.

• Building state and local partnerships. Providing the opportunity for conference attendees from the same state to interact and to begin building partnerships in support of workforce development activities.

The conference targets individuals and organizations interested in rural workforce issues, including state and local workforce investment boards, private industry councils, county/city elected officials with fiscal responsibility for local workforce investment activities, land-grant university researchers and extension educators, community college faculty and staff involved in workforce training and preparation activities, representatives of federal/state labor, education and social services agencies, youth service providers, officials of State Rural Development Councils and USDA Rural Development Offices, and business leaders.

The deadline for hotel reservations is June 26, 1999. Conference registration is $75 per person and covers resource materials, breaks, one luncheon, and two breakfast meals. Registration deadline is June 25, 1999. After this date, the conference registration fee is $100. For more information, please contact the Southern Rural Development Center at (662) 325-3207 or bonniet@srdc.msstate.edu.

Conference sponsors include the Southern Rural Development Center, the University of Kentucky TVA Rural Studies Program, and the Cooperative State Research, Education, and Extension Service/USDA.

About Becky Gillette

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