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Over $1 million Harvest grant will provide funding to pilot workforce program

LEFT TO RIGHT: Tyler Freeland, deputy director of the West Piedmont Workforce Investment Board, Sheryl Agee, impact officer and team leader at The Harvest Foundation, West Piedmont Board of Directors Chairman Adam Wright and Guy Stanley, interim director

MARTINSVILLE – The Harvest Foundation is partnering with the West Piedmont Workforce Investment Board through a $1,079,727 three-year grant to pilot the Guided Career Exploration program to connect young adults to workforce training and jobs.

West Piedmont’s pilot program will target the 17-24 age group of area residents who are unemployed, underemployed, not already attending college or pursuing a career path.

The program will support participants in developing a career path, whether they directly join the workforce or need additional training and credentials to hone their skills.

In September local unemployment rates were at a 29-year low with Martinsville at 3.7 percent and Henry County at 2.9 percent.

With rates being the lowest since 1990, Sheryl Agee, impact officer and team leader at The Harvest Foundation, said there is a pressing need to increase local workforce numbers to meet industry demand.

“Our labor participation rate, which is the total number of people who are currently employed or in search of a job, is only 51 percent compared to the state at 68 percent,” said Agee, citing reports from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. “That number is falling and is predicted to continue to decline as our working population ages and our labor demands go up. We have to be creative in finding opportunities for growing our workforce to meet our current and future needs.”

The Guided Career Exploration is designed to help meet local workforce needs by providing individual career coaching and work experiences through an intense mentoring approach for individuals who may be facing barriers to employment or just need some assistance in developing a career pathway.

“We know there are thousands of young adults in our community who could use a boost finding their career path and discovering their dreams,” said Tyler Freeland, deputy director of the West Piedmont Workforce Investment Board. “We now have the opportunity and resources to serve this population better than ever before. We know the need to give people a helping hand in becoming the best version of themselves is prevalent, and we are thankful to be able to provide these services.”

Freeland further stated that while other federal, state and local programs provide support to young adults for workforce development and credential or degree attainment, this program will go a step further by providing paid training and work experience which allows participants to bring home real dollars to meet their household expenses, allowing them to stay engaged while developing their workforce skills.

Participants will be required to attend a life skills training course in addition to a workforce experience that is designed to offer hands-on training in a field of interest while further developing healthy workplace skills.

Individuals will be paired with a Career Coach during the 12-week program, and for a year following the conclusion of the program to provide continued support.

Goals for participants include entrance into a post-secondary educational program, full-time employment with wages of $9.50 or more, obtaining a short-term credential that leads to employment in a designated career field, or part-time employment with a career or educational plan.

Adam Wright, chairman of the Board of Directors for West Piedmont, added, “We are thrilled to be able to expand upon our traditional services. This partnership will be a lasting collaboration that will strengthen our community’s workforce and better many lives. As chairman of the board, I am proud of the hard work our organization has put into this project and I’m excited for the future.”

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