Last month Finger Lakes Community College announced an expansion of workforce development offerings during the coronavirus pandemic.

With unemployment rates surging, workforce development professionals agree that now is the time to expand skills to transition into the “new” economy that emerges following the pandemic, or strict social distancing measures.

This comes as Governor Andrew Cuomo discusses the process by which the Finger Lakes region will reopen. That is expected to occur later this month, but no guaranteed date for the Finger Lakes has been identified.

Finger Lakes Community College serves as one of two local institutions that serve as workforce developers for Seneca County. That expansion of workforce development offerings, which was made online, included an expansion of healthcare offerings to help during the pandemic.

“We are so pleased that we are able to fill a need during a crisis and provide these workers with a path to advancement in the health care industry,” President Robert Nye said at the time. However, the pros in local workforce development in the region say shorter-training opportunities that lead to career advancement will be even more important after the pandemic.

Mike Woloson, who serves as business development manager for Finger Lakes Works, or the Finger Lakes Workforce Investment Board, said the last 45 days has been nothing short of unprecedented. "It's been crazy," he said. "I'll be honest with you – I've been doing this for a long time; and unprecedented is the word that comes to mind."

Woloson said the focus for Finger Lakes Works has been two-fold.

First, continue providing resources for workers who are seeking out a job. They provide this service digitally and physically, but due to COVID-19, have shifted to an all-digital output.

Second, they provide support for businesses. Ordinarily, Woloson said that means listening to businesses concerns, like what types of employees and skills they need. That information is then processed. "We connect people to local employers," he explained. "At the end of the day, that's our core responsibility."

Admittedly, it is an effort that has shifted. While there are record-numbers of individuals out of work, the act of seeking employment is not occurring at ordinary pace.

"We're really focusing on the business-side of businesses," Woloson explained. "Our end users, we try to supply them with talent, and right now, businesses don't necessarily need that talent."

He said there are plenty of “essential” businesses that continue to operate, who need talent, and that is where the match-making has been taking place. Not only in the healthcare space, which has been filled by FLCC's existing and new programs, but also beyond that as well.

Businesses are hungry for other information, too, which has made Finger Lakes Works a reliable resource.

"There are businesses that are open, that we're helping meet the needs through job matching and such. But there's a lot of businesses out there that need more information than they need applicants," Woloson continued. "They need to know how to sign up for the different programs that are out there. So we try to provide them with that information. And if we don't know the answers, we link them to somebody that does."

Woloson said local chambers of commerce have helped supplement that effort.

He said staff at local career centers continue to be available for assistance amid the pandemic.

"They're working tirelessly, the New York State Department of Labor staff is following up with phone calls, really reaching out to folks jack, trying to make sure that they get what they need in order to get through this really just unbelievably difficult time," Woloson added.

What about moving forward, though?

Woloson says “up-skilling” is a huge opportunity right now.

"I think it comes down to workforce development. It's developing your workers, whether they're with you right now, or having those workers take the initiative and going out and 'up-skilling,'" he explained. "And if you want a leg up when things settle down, investing in inexpensive ways to develop those skills to make you more valuable to your current employer, and your next employer, is really the strategy that we tell jobseekers, or those uncertain about the future."

Finger Lakes Works contends that information is power and conveying that message to people of all ages in the region is an important step that they will continue embracing post-pandemic.

"If you could show a ninth or 10th grader the opportunities that exist – not necessarily having to go to a four-year college or rack up a lot of college debt – and having the opportunity to develop your skills and have an occupation in your own backyard, that's powerful," he added. "It's a message that will stand the test of time. There are a ton of opportunities – for people of all ages – and that's really important to remember, even now."

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