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Inaugural Workforce Forward 2011 Forum a Success


September 24, 2010

On September 23, the Southern Virginia Higher Education Center hosted its inaugural Workforce Forward 2011 Forum. One hundred and fifteen leaders from across southern Virginia gathered for regional dialogue focused on education, employment, and economic development. The Forum began with a welcome from SVHEC Board Chairman William E. Coleman. Dr. Betty H. Adams, SVHEC Executive Director provided an overview of the conference, remarking that the Workforce Forum would be a regular platform for regional dialogue.


Nettie Simon-Owens, SVHEC Director of Assessment & Advancement provided an overview of workforce initiatives at the SVHEC. She highlighted several key comprehensive offerings operated by the SVHEC including the USA TopSolid Training Institute and the Advanced Technology Lab. She also spoke about the variety of other workforce services available including specialized/customized training, facilitation services, and project management. When working with employers we are able to help identify workplace and worker skill training needs, communicate and coordinate these needs with the appropriate providers, or develop training to meet the identified needs,” Simon-Owens said.


Next, Patricia Thomas, Halifax Regional Health System’s Chief Nursing Officer and SVHEC Board of Trustees’ member, delivered a presentation on the SVHEC’s Center of Nursing Excellence (CNE). The CNE is a workforce initiative under the directorship of Simon-Owens. Thomas began by sharing the following US Bureau of Labor Statistics data about the healthcare industry:

·       The healthcare industry has added 613,000 jobs since the recession began in December 2007;

·       There will be 233,000 additional jobs for Registered Nurses each year through 2016;

·       Between 2008-2018, nursing aides, orderlies, attendants, and home health aides are among the occupations adding the most new jobs in the health care industry.


The concept for the Center of Nursing Excellence (CNE) was developed because the data showed an overwhelming demand in the region, state, and nation for qualified health care professionals. Opened in September 2008, the Center of Nursing Excellence, with educational partners, provides programs for nurse aides through candidates for the Doctorate of Nursing Practice. In addition, the CNE provides continuing education facilities and curriculum for the professional development of current healthcare practitioners. To date, the CNE has been used to provide healthcare related training and educational opportunities to 470 individuals.


Ben Capozzi, Curriculum Coordinator for the Business of Art & Design initiative at the SVHEC, gave Forum attendees a dynamic look at the SVHEC’s signature program and the award-winning work being created by Halifax County students. Capozzi stated that the Business of Art & Design is two academic programs, Digital Art & Design and Product Design & Development developed by the SVHEC in partnership with Danville Community College. Students in both academic programs share a common semester of art, design, and business basics, with a continued focus on collaboration, creativity, innovation, and real world experiences. “As an academic program we don’t expect every student to be a graphic designer, but our programs allow students to follow career paths that best align with their enthusiasms and their abilities,” Capozzi stated.  To that end, all students are provided with a flexible career pathway that provides a marketable skill set whether they step off the path with a career studies certificate or a four-year degree. “We train our students to be flexible, and so are we. Our students should assimilate easily into your business, comprehend your mission and message, understand the technologies, and execute a strategy,” Capozzi said.


One of the highlights of the Workforce Forward Forum was Dr. Christine Chmura. Dr. Chmura, President and Chief Economist of Chmura Economics & Analytics in Richmond, Virginia, presented an in-depth report with data and a data analysis specific to Southern Virginia. Dr. Chmura shared data concerning regional job loss and job creation, and the sectors of the economy worth regional investment. She spoke of the positive impact education has on the economy, stating that high levels of educational attainment throughout the Commonwealth has kept Virginia’s overall unemployment rate lower than the nation’s. She also shared data clearly showing that individuals with higher levels of educational attainment fared better during the recession, and that the jobs coming back as the economy recovers require higher skill levels than those jobs that were lost during the recession. “Less skilled workers have less flexibility in the job market and higher unemployment,” she stated. Dr. Chmura presented data about the top 20 occupations in demand in southern Virginia, and provided insight into sectors of the economy that southern Virginia could develop and grow across the region.


Dr. Betty H. Adams and David Kenealy, who gave Forum attendees a first look at the SVHEC’s Innovation Center and the R&D Center for Advanced Manufacturing and Energy Efficiency, followed Dr. Chmura. The Innovation Center, next door to the Prizery, is currently being renovated, and once completed, will house the SVHEC’s signature Business of Art & Design programming, Workforce at the SVHEC, a 75-seat tiered classroom and conference center, and the R&D Center. The R&D Center for Advanced Manufacturing and Energy Efficiency will work with small and mid-sized businesses to help solve their product design dilemmas, assist them in creating new products and components, and lower their manufacturing costs through technological efficiencies. While the Innovation Center will not come online until 2011, research & development services are now available.


Over lunch, Forum attendees participated in roundtable discussions with a diverse group of educators, businessmen and women, policymakers, and economic developers. They discussed, from a regional perspective, the data presented and the impact the data should have on the region’s efforts to grow and move forward.


Following the roundtable discussions, The Honorable Mary Rae Carter, Deputy Secretary of Commerce and Trade for Rural Economic Development, and Dr. Robert Leber, Special Advisor to the Governor for Workforce Development and the Deputy Commissioner of the Virginia Employment Commission, delivered the keynote address. Their addresses focused on sharing information from the state level on job creation and economic development strategies for Southern Virginia. Deputy Secretary Carter stated “For way too long rural Virginia has been the Commonwealth’s best kept secret. My goal is to have rural Virginia well known domestically and globally as a place to start a business and to relocate a business.” She also shared information on legislation and statewide economic development efforts that will benefit Southern Virginia. Deputy Secretary Carter ended by saying “Governor McDonnell and his administration views Halifax County and the surrounding area as a vital strategic partner in the socio-economic successes of this great Commonwealth.”


At the end of the day, Dr. Adams provided a summary of the roundtable discussions and attendees were given the opportunity to take a guided tour of the Innovation Center. In summarizing the event Nettie Simon-Owens, SVHEC Director of Workforce Assessment & Advancement , said, “The Workforce Forward Forum is an example of the SVHEC’s commitment to focus on critical issues affecting businesses and individuals in our communities. Through events like the Forum, Workforce @ SVHEC will continue to work with various workforce stakeholders to identify and deliver solutions to the ever-growing needs of this region. We plan for today’s forum to become a regular platform for continued dialogue about education, employment, and economic development.”


The Workforce Forward Forum is an initiative of the Southern Virginia Higher Education Center. Copies of presentations from the Workforce Forward Forum is posted on the SVHEC’s website, www.svhec.org, and video of the forum is available on the SVHEC’s Youtube channel, www.youtube.com/svhed. For more information about the Workforce Forward Forum or SVHEC Workforce initiatives contact Nettie Simon-Owens at information@svhec.org or
434-572-5477 and toll free 1-800-283-0098 ext 5477.