Reformer: Brattleboro to host career expo this week


By HOWARD WEISS-TISMAN / Reformer Staff

BRATTLEBORO — Over the past few years business leaders and economic development experts have been collecting data and developing strategies to improve Windham County’s economy.

The average age in Windham County is high, the average wage is low and companies say it is hard to find skilled employee to fill key positions.

Different groups around the region are working to address the issue and in a continuing effort to move Windham County’s economy forward, a career expo is being held this week to bring employers and workers together.

The Southeastern Vermont Career Expo will be held Thursday, Sept. 26, from 2 to 6 p.m. at the Quality Inn on Putney Road.

Career expo organizer David Altstadt says it is going to take a long time and a variety of strategies to improve the business climate, but this week’s career expo could be a powerful tool for helping move the economy forward.

“There had been a real push to put workforce development on the front burner to revitalize the local economy,” Altstadt said. “We were looking for a way to jumpstart the conversation and what better way is there than having a career expo as one piece of that puzzle?”

Altstadt is the coordinator of the Windham Workforce Investment Board, a group that works with employers, development groups, public and non-profit service providers and educational institutions to help develop a quality workforce.

The investment board is a Southeastern Vermont Community Action program that is run by a volunteer executive committee and it has hosted a number of different workforce development events over the years.

This is the first job fair that focuses on Windham County employers, Altstadt said.

“We’ve been talking about the challenges Windham County faces for three years, and we’ve been trying to come up with a meaningful project to help employers,” Altstadt said. “Job fairs have been held in other places in Vermont but Windham County has never had its own job fair. We thought it was high time something like this happened.”

Jennifer Locascio is the director of Human Resources at Omega Optical in Brattleboro. She said the company attends job fairs all over the world to find highly skilled technicians for its high tech equipment.

When Locascio was asked to attend Thursday’s career expo she said she saw it as important way to reach out to the local employment pool.

“We are always trying to recruit from the local area anyway and we think this is a better forum for that,” Locascio said. “We are excited to be a part of this.”

She also said the expo is going to give Omega Optical a chance to meet with other local businesses and with community members who might not know about the company.

“We think it is important for us to get out into the community and talk about what we do here,” she said. “We have a few positions to fill and we are looking forward to talking with people about Omega.”

The career expo is expected to bring together 25 employers, including those in manufacturing, wholesale trade, food production and energy.

But Altstadt says the event is looking to do even more than just match employers with workers.

There are eight educational organizations that will have tables to talk about programs they offer, along with three staffing agencies and another eight organizations that support employment services.

“We have sold out our tables. There is a lot of interest in this and we think it is important to have everyone together in one room,” Altstadt said. “We think this is going to be one more way to continue that conversation about supporting workforce development in Windham County.”

Jack Hornbeck, who helps recruit employees at Swiss Precision, said the company is eager to be a part of the region’s first career expo.

Hornbeck said it has been a challenge to find workers with the necessary skills to fill high tech positions at the small company.

Swiss Precision has 18 employees and growth there can be slowed when there are not enough people to run the machines.

“We’ve exhausted a lot of situations. We’re looking from Keene, New Hampshire to Springfield, Massachusetts,” he said. “Hopefully this is going to give us a chance to meet people and have them see what we do. Maybe someone will come in and take a look at Swiss Precision. It can give us exposure and see some of the local talent out there.”

Altstadt said the career expo is being held as one strategy in the region’s attempt to jump start the local economy.

Helping companies connect with potential workers is the primary reason for holding the expo, but he agreed that having company officials from all over Windham County in one room should help strengthen the overall business climate.

And he said he hopes the expo becomes an annual event.

“We hope this is one way to light a fire and help companies make connections that they have otherwise been struggling to do,” Altstadt said. “A lot of people are working toward that broader goal of increasing workforce development and this is one strategy. We think this is a win-win for employers and workers in the region.”

For more information go to www.vermontcareerexpo.com.

Howard Weiss-Tisman can be reached at 802-254-2311 ext. 279 or hwtisman@reformer.com. Follow Howard @HowardReformer.

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