20 November 2009

A new push for a better workforce

I was invited to join what organizers called a Career Pathways/STEM Educator-Employer Summit Nov. 11 at the BAE Systems facility in West Manchester Township. That's a fancy way of saying more than two dozen representatives from county schools and employers met to brainstorm ways to improve the way students are prepared for York County jobs in a 21st-century economy. The emphasis here was on finding ways to improve math and science skills for students across the county, specifically with an eye on future high-tech manufacturing jobs. Participants also wanted to develop new ways for schools and local employers to interact.

These were the questions posed by organizers Glenn Caufman and Rob McIlvaine:
1. For educators, what's the school's role in preparing students for the new economy, and what barriers do you face?
2. For employers, what are your expectations of graduates entering the workforce, and what role should employers play in helping schools shape curricula to meet those expectations?
3. For educators, how would partnerships between schools and employers enhance student performance?
4. For employers, is it in your self interest to develop relationships with local schools?
5. For both groups, what should a collaborative partnership between schools and businesses look like and what are some current best practices in the school-to-work arena?

Caufman, director of the York County Alliance for Learning, and Rob McIlvaine, from Mantec, sent out a recap of the brainstorming session, and there were dozens of ideas generated by the questions. The challenge now will be to turn all the ideas into a workable plan.

YorkCounts supports this effort. Developing better connections between employers and workers was a Metro-York recommendation in 2007, and that task has been taken up initially by the York County Economic Development Corp., which developed its Office of Workforce Development. EDC President Darrell Auterson provided the welcome at the summit, a sign that this new effort will tie into the work that Auterson's group is doing.

Lots of York County students still view college as their first option after graduating. But for those that don't, how well are schools doing to prepare kids for the quality jobs that exist right here? What could schools and employers be doing differently to reduce brain drain?

- Dan Fink

19 November 2009

Truancy effort aims for grant

An article in the Nov. 19 York Daily Record reports that the York County commissioners applied for a $75,000 state grant that would pay for an anti-truancy specialist for York County. This is great news for the fight to reduce truancy and dropout rates. The United Way of York County recently made public the YorkCounts-United Way Stay in School Report, and one of the recommendations in the report is to expand the work of Judge John Uhler's truancy prevention task force. A key part of that would involve hiring a full-time coordinator. It sounds like this grant would be a big step in that direction.

- Dan Fink

04 November 2009

Who needs hip to grow? Not York

What really matters to the City of York’s socioeconomic sustainability? This piece from Joel Kotkin is worth contemplating. While I don’t always agree with Kotkin, his work is rock solid – he’s a serious academic, not a shoot-from-the-hip booster or ideologue.

He makes two main points. First:

"The Wall Street Journal, for example, recently identified the "Next Youth-Magnet Cities" as drawn from the old "hip and cool" collection of yore: Seattle, Portland, Washington, New York and Austin, Texas.
It's not just the young who will flock to the blue meccas, but money and business as well, according to the narrative. The future, the Atlantic assured its readers, did not belong to the rubes in the suburbs or Sun Belt, but to high-density, high-end places like New York, San Francisco and Boston.
This narrative, which has not changed much over the past decade, is misleading and largely misstated. Net migration, both before and after the Great Recession, according to analysis by the Praxis Strategy Group, has continued to be strongest to the predominately red states of the South and Intermountain West."

And second:

More important, the key group leaving New York and other so-called "youth-magnets" comprises the middle class, particularly families, critical to any long-term urban revival.

I think there is good news and bad news for a place like York in Kotkin's essay. The bad news is that we happen to find our city trapped in a state with seemingly intractable systems that work against the success of older communities, and that, as a whole, is a “donor” to the migration patterns he describes. The good news is that we probably don’t need to spend so much time beating ourselves up that we’re not Austin or Portland – that we’re not hip enough to attract the ballyhooed “creative class” – and focus on the message that for plenty of families, value and jobs matter more than hip coffee shops and jazz clubs. I’m not arguing against those things – they are a proper part of creating a downtown “Market District” that offers the quality of life that is needed to attract a certain segment of the population, and they are good for our downtown. But let’s not lose sight of the bigger picture either.

At the end of the day, York County has a couple of things going for it that are as much good fortune as they are clever economic development:

1. A great location on the edge of the Northeast Corridor, with excellent transportation access to some of the wealthiest markets in the world.
2. Relatively inexpensive land and a lower cost-of-living than is found in those markets.

With those two factors as the backdrop, the City of York has a couple of things going for it:

1. An absolutely fantastic built environment with a downtown and neighborhoods that bear all the attributes of a great urban place.
2. A shifting demographic, cultural and energy-cost climate (that will last probably 30 years) that will be far more favorable to walkable, urban places than the last 30 years have been.

It’s our job to stop apologizing for ourselves and our city (and our schools, and our taxes, and our crime) and take advantage of the above factors with an economic- and community-development strategy that looks at how to change the game based on where the market is headed. Let’s make ourselves a great urban place and let the other chips fall where they may. Today would be a good opportunity to start.

- Eric Menzer, YorkCounts chairman of the board

03 November 2009

Survey to bring vital data on youth

From today's York Dispatch:

York County students are being surveyed through Nov. 13 to gather data about their behavior, their attitudes and their knowledge about alcohol, tobacco, drugs and violence.
The Pennsylvania Youth Survey will be administered to students in sixth, eighth, 10th and 12th grades in 15 of the county's 16 school districts and several charter schools.

The article says this will be the first time so many York County schools will participate in the survey. Why is that important? More students responding means more and better data, and that will help local officials better identify issues, assess programs and target spending needs.

In the bigger picture, this is a key part of the effort to reduce gang violence and youth crime and the related issues of truancy and school dropout rates. YorkCounts will hold a series of town halls on that very subject, starting with the first event in Dover on Nov. 9. The town halls, "Kids, Truancy and a County at Risk," will focus on the YorkCounts-United Way's Stay in School Report.

- Dan Fink