Experts gather in Troy to talk about Workforce Development

Members of the Rensselaer County business community spent some time this week focusing on workforce development.

Event-goers heard from a panel of local experts during a program called Workforce Development in Rensselaer County on Tuesday morning at the Tech Valley Center of Gravity.

The gathering, part of a Career Development series by the Downtown Troy Business Improvement District, was also presented by the Rensselaer County Regional Chamber of Commerce.

The panelists brought in to discuss workforce development were Dan Cullen of the Workforce Development Institute, Rensselaer County’s commissioner of employment and training Brian Williams, Averill Park Central School District coordinator of special projects Barbara Goldstein and Bryan Baszcuk, an employment specialist with ACCES VR.

hese speakers each described their roles in the workforce development field, while discussing current issues and initiatives around workforce development in Rensselaer County.

Cullen shared about trends and initiatives the Workforce Development Institute is working on to address the workforce needs of businesses in the region. “If you can’t find a workforce, you have to build a workforce,” he explained mentioning programs at BOCES and area community colleges like Hudson Valley Community College, which make sure graduates have the skills required for employment.

While there is great focus on advanced manufacturing as of recently throughout the region, Cullen also spoke about a lesser known but surprisingly large employment sector in the Capital District: the creative economy. According to the Alliance for the Creative Economy, the Creative Economy employs 47,282 people and generates $1.4 billion in earnings in the Capital Region. “It doesn’t always mean having your name on the marquee,” Cullen said, noting that the job satisfaction of individuals in this sector is often unmatched.

Additionally, Cullen touched on the importance of soft skills, something employers tell him time and time again that job candidates are lacking.

One thing is certain, “The world of looking for work has changed,” said Williams, who tries to meet the needs of all job-seekers through his position with the county. Even within the past five years, he continued, more and more aspects of the search - along with some of the jobs themselves - are being replaced with technology.

Those heading into the job market may want to seek employment in a field that is ahead of technology, Cullen said. While many positions are being swapped out for automation, there are a few jobs that definitely won’t disappear - those who create the automated programs and those who fix them, as well as those who protect them in the cybersecurity profession.

Though some may find this unsettling, Goldstein believes students still have plenty to look forward to in their careers. “We have a region rich in opportunity,” she said. Goldstein works with area businesses on creating partnerships where students can shadow professionals, gaining a true sense of what it’s like to work in a particular field. The former educator also believes these career conversations should start happening well before 11th grade, along with immersion experiences that can help the students make informed choices about their futures.

Baszcuk agreed. “The sooner a student is able to explore work,” he said, “the sooner they can figure themselves out.”

This is beneficial for society and the economy as well. Williams said, “As a community we’re always looking to build tomorrow’s workforce.”

Marissa Martin