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BC3 educator selected to lead Growth Collaborative

Butler County Community College faculty member Tricia Pritchard, of Center Township, is the director of community employment development for the Butler County Growth Collaborative empowerment initiative. Submitted Photo

A Butler County Community College faculty member will lead the Butler County Growth Collaborative initiative, which is intended to address a workforce shortage by providing training to residents who face barriers to employment.

Tricia Pritchard, of Center Township, is the director of community employment development for the Butler County Growth Collaborative empowerment initiative.

Pritchard has taught communications courses at BC3 since 2008, and courses for the college’s Workforce Development business training department since 2017.

Representatives of Butler County Growth Collaborative organizations served on an eight-member search committee, said Mark Gordon, chairman of the collaborative board and the county’s chief of economic development and planning.

Butler County will fund Pritchard’s position primarily with American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 grants, and with other public and private funding sources, through January 2025, said Leslie Osche, chairwoman of Butler County commissioners.

Pritchard began her new role Monday on a part-time basis, said Lisa Campbell, dean of BC3’s Workforce Development division and to whom Pritchard will report. Pritchard will transition to full-time following the conclusion of BC3’s spring semester in May, Campbell said.

Collaborative vision

The concept that became the Butler County Growth Collaborative in 2019 was supported by Osche and Commissioners Kim Geyer and Kevin Boozel following their elections in 2015, said Nick Neupauer, president of BC3 and a member of the collaborative’s advisory committee.

The Butler County Growth Collaborative followed the Butler County Chamber of Commerce’s 2009 idea for a unified plan. The collaborative’s mission is to preserve and empower economic prosperity throughout Butler County.

The collaborative’s empowerment initiative “was talked about for a while, then interrupted by COVID-19,” Neupauer said.

An objective in the Butler County Growth Collaborative’s 2021-26 strategic plan is to identify employment gaps.

An objective in BC3’s 2017-22 strategic plan is to build relationships to advance economic development and quality of life.

“This is about doing the right thing,” Neupauer said. “The right thing as it relates to those who will go through the training, the right thing as it relates to the employers in Butler County, the right thing as it relates to a retention point of view in this great resignation period on the back end of COVID-19.

“This shows our county is very forward-thinking and proactive instead of waiting for something to happen.”

Barriers to employment

Barriers to employment in Pennsylvania include child care, transportation, training, re-entry and professional licensure, according to the Keystone Economic Development and Workforce Command Center.

“It could be people who have a criminal record, who are coming out of incarceration,” Osche said. Barriers could also include recovery from addiction, poverty, or intellectual disabilities or mental-health challenges, she said.

Butler County leaders in business, government and education, and other nonprofit organizations, were introduced to empowerment training programs that included those from Twin Cities Rise, Minn., during an employment planning summit in July 2018 at BC3, Osche said.

“As the Butler County Growth Collaborative was developing, a lot of what we were hearing was that employers were suffering because they didn’t have enough employees,” Osche said. “At the same time, the opioid initiative was happening.”

Earlier in 2018, BC3 debuted its “Reset Your Brain: A Revolutionary Approach to Opioid Addiction and Recovery” initiative as part of its 2017-22 strategic plan.

The initiative led to “Hope is Dope” classes – whose locations have included Butler County Prison. “New Eyes” classes and “Hope Nights” also followed in downtown Butler.

“As we began to talk, we realized that a key to both prevention and recovery was meaningful employment,” Osche said.

The Butler County Growth Collaborative empowerment initiative follows the employment planning summit and a personal empowerment training cohort, also held in 2018 at BC3.

The Butler County Growth Collaborative’s initiative will utilize personal empowerment training from the Twin Cities Rise Empowerment Institute, delivered by multiple community partners and businesses to assist those with barriers to employment, Osche said.

BC3’s Workforce Development division will coordinate Butler County trainers certified in Twin Cities Rise personal empowerment training.

Empowerment training topics for those who face barriers to employment will include self-confidence, self-control, team-building and social management skills.

“Whether it’s the various boards that I sit on, or our advisory boards, folks talk about the soft skills,” Neupauer said. “It seems to be a very real situation that needs to be addressed, and I think this training does a great job in doing so.”

Program support

Pritchard will become the primary contact for the Butler County Growth Collaborative empowerment initiative, Gordon said. She will utilize college and community resources for business and agency engagement, and for recruiting and retention.

She also will help Butler County businesses consider for employment those who have completed the training, Gordon said.

“There’s an educational component,” Gordon said. “(Pritchard) will be working in collaboration with the trainers. She’ll be working in collaboration with those who go through the training process. And she will be working in collaboration with our businesses – businesses that have needs, businesses that are recruiting and looking for employees.

“It’s like a matchmaking process. It’s working with employers, introducing them to this type of initiative and then bringing them somebody who has gone through this process, somebody that might be a good fit in their organization.”

Employers told Butler County leaders that similar approaches in the past left them without support, Osche said. In the Butler County Growth Collaborative empowerment initiative, “The employers themselves need to know that there is a network behind that employee,” Osche said.

“(Pritchard’s) position is there to focus on people with employment challenges. But empowerment in general … is a community-level concept.”

Workforce shortage

The workforce shortage in Butler County “is at a crisis level in many places,” Osche said.

Enrollment in high schools has decreased, some employers have scores of vacancies, and while the county’s population has slightly increased, “it results in groups of employers fighting for the same employees,” Gordon said.

Those who complete the personal empowerment training can increase the breadth of their potential for filling employment vacancies, Campbell said.

“We have realized that many of the individuals with barriers really want to go to work,” Campbell said. “We also are recognizing that our employers are adapting to their workforce shortage by loosening their entry-level requirements and becoming more open to hiring individuals who are not technically skilled, or perhaps have some type of personal barrier. Employers are more accepting to hire these individuals and provide the needed skills training and offer second chances to those who are looking for them, which is wonderful. It’s a beautiful thing.”

Those who complete the personal empowerment training can also separately pursue certificate programs or degrees. This additional accreditation further advances their employment opportunities, said Gordon, an executive with the former AK Steel before retiring in 2016.

Butler County’s use of American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 grants for the Butler County Growth Collaborative empowerment initiative also addresses the effect COVID-19 has had on the workforce, Osche said.

“Many women left the workforce because they didn’t have child care, and they were trying to educate their children or help their children be educated at home,” Osche said. “There were others who may have lost their jobs because they were in a particular industry.

“We would love to see everybody have the opportunity to become employed, and the empowerment piece is critical to helping them to unleash their potential.

Bill Foley is coordinator of news and media content at Butler County Community College.