BY THOM KLEINER
As the new executive director of the Westchester-Putnam Workforce Development Board (WDB), Thom Kleiner’s goal is to help job seekers and businesses alike. He hopes to assist businesses in attracting, developing and retaining a workforce that meets their needs, now and in the future. Kleiner shares his thoughts on the current labor market and why businesses should get involved with the WDB and Westchester’s Career Centers.
WHAT SKILLS ARE MOST IN DEMAND? WHAT ARE YOU HEARING FROM EMPLOYERS?
We’re in a technology-driven economy and in many ways every sector is a tech sector. So, digital skills are in demand. The lower Hudson Valley also has high demand for “middle skills” jobs — those that require education beyond high school but not necessarily a bachelor’s degree. But employers of all types are constantly reminding us that, no matter the job, soft skills such as customer service, writing, and the ability to communicate are always needed and often lacking. Our READI program is particularly designed to sharpen these skills. As the marketplace changes, workers will need to adapt and learn how to transfer their skills to new career areas. That’s where our personalized approach works. The end-to-end career coaching, skill development, job matching and employer outreach ultimately helps to create a skilled workforce.
UNEMPLOYMENT HOVERS NEAR HISTORIC LOWS. WHAT DOES THAT MEAN FOR
BUSINESSES IN OUR REGION?
While it is true that the unemployment rate is low, there are still plenty of area residents who are ready and willing to work who have not found employment. At the same time, the labor market is tight and employers are competing for talent and wrestling with how best to upskill their current workforce. The good news is, we can help. We are here to support human resources teams. We can help businesses fill jobs from entry level on up; we can help businesses reduce the cost to hire and train new employees; we can help upskill your current workforce. The Westchester-Putnam Career Center Network includes four locations (White Plains, Mount Vernon, Peekskill and Carmel in Putnam County) that are ready to work with the business community to provide talent, training and so much more. And, using our services is free.
WHERE DO YOU FIND TALENT?
Our job seekers run the gamut from recent high school and college grads to those with professional degrees. Not only do we have the candidates, we have job development specialists who will match job seekers to your open positions, factoring in the appropriate education, training and skill level. In fact, our job developers are nationally certified in business engagement practices, which means they have an in-depth understanding of talent management and hiring needs. The Career Center staff also employs the Career Pathways model to guide job seekers to opportunities in growing sectors in the region and identify the training and steps to get started and advance. Their efforts result in motivated, vetted employees for your organization.
HOW DO YOU ADDRESS RAPIDLY CHANGING BUSINESS NEEDS IN TODAY’S MARKETPLACE?
We are well-positioned to quickly adapt to industry needs because we partner with business, education and economic development leaders to collaborate on our shared goals of getting people back to work and meeting employers’ needs. We regularly meet with Business Sector Partners in seven key areas (advanced manufacturing, biotechnology, green, health care, hospitality, not-for-profits and professional services) to identify skill sets and training needed for available jobs. We coordinate with educational institutions and training providers to marry needed skills to training and preparation. We regard them all as our partners.
And we’ve been successful. Through our Jobs Waiting program, for example, we’ve retrained more than 400 long-term unemployed individuals and placed 300 of them in health care jobs. Under this program, organizations such as White Plains Hospital, ENT and Allergy Associates, Northern Westchester Hospital, Cabrini of Westchester and others have received thousands of dollars in financial incentives to upskill their current workforce and attract new employees via risk-free, paid work tryouts and on-the-job training (OJT), which covers up to 50 percent of new-hire training costs.
Robison, Business of Your Business, and Madison Approach Staffing, among others, have benefitted from OJT through our Career Center. Additionally, when ShopRite Supermarkets, Inc., needed several of their Spanish-speaking employees to obtain food safety training and certification, they benefitted from our customized incumbent worker training program. We facilitated coordination between the supermarket and Westchester Community College, which provided a cost-effective group training in Spanish. We have helped to arrange (and pay for) training programs in English as a Second Language, clinical health care skills, software systems and management and supervisory skills, among many others, for businesses across the region.
WHAT ABOUT BUSINESSES LOOKING TO LOCATE IN WESTCHESTER — HOW DO YOU ANTICIPATE THEIR NEEDS?
County Executive George Latimer believes that workforce development and economic development go hand in hand. I agree. We’re developing strategies to coordinate with the county’s business attraction efforts and working on customized training solutions for businesses coming to the region and those already established here. If we can supply a steady pipeline of talent and offer the appropriate training, we can help attract new businesses and save employers time and money in the recruitment and training process.
HOW CAN BUSINESSES ACCESS THE RESOURCES YOU OFFER?
Call 914-995-3707, register online at westchesterputnamonestop.com or stop by (the office locations are on our website) — we’ll get you started. Remember, our services are free. And spread the word — I hope to make our services and opportunities more well-known to the business community as we strive to be top of mind as a clearinghouse for talent, training, and collaboration among the business, not-for-profit and education communities.