via Ray Scherer for St. Joseph News-Press [link]

St. Joseph leaders are on the right track when it comes to improving the city’s workforce development efforts.

That was the message Wednesday afternoon from an official who spends each day trying to improve manufacturers’ workplace environment. Katherine DeRosear, director of Workforce Development for the Virginia Manufacturers Association, spoke at the 2015 Economic Summit Luncheon at the Downtown Riverfront Hotel. The St. Joseph Chamber of Commerce prepared the event, with Innovation Stockyard as the presenting sponsor.

Ms. DeRosear, who also is a consultant, said the purpose of her work at the institute is to increase companies’ manufacturing capabilities and close gaps in employees’ interests and skills.

“It really is a skills war,” she told 170 guests gathered at the hotel.

Communities should leverage their assets to produce a quantity and quality of their workforces, she said, in order to retain and grow their industries.

“This is a national issue, but it’s perpetuated at the regional level,” said Ms. DeRosear, who admitted she is “a recovering bureaucrat.”

Workplace development cannot occur, she said, without first distinguishing the types of jobs that are growing from those that are declining. She said research shows that most individuals younger than 25 have jobs that don’t require a four-year degree.

“It’s not all about four-year degrees,” Ms. De-Rosear said.

She said Missouri has taken the right step by becoming a Dream It-Do It state. The program offers access to national support and resources to assist manufacturing’s workforce needs.

The solution lies in closing the interests and skills gaps, she told the audience.

“St. Joseph is leading the nation in this area,” Ms. DeRosear said. “You’re now on the leading edge.”

She referred to a current pilot program at Hillyard Technical Center that involves 22 high school students participating in a Manufacturing Technician Certification program, which measures competence in advanced manufacturing skills.

“This is a true industry-education partnership,” she said.

Responding to a question, Ms. DeRosear said the certifications can be applied to high school juniors and seniors. Typically 100 hours are spent in the classroom.

Chamber president and CEO Patt Lilly updated recent economic development efforts, including a new facility for pet food manufacturer Protein Inc. that should be done in a week or two.

Sen. Jill Schupp, D-St. Louis County, attended the luncheon as part of a tour that included a visit to Rosecrans Memorial Airport and the Missouri Air National Guard’s 139th Airlift Wing.