Finding qualified workers affecting schools, leaders say at West Chester/Liberty Chamber event

Credit: Nick Graham

Credit: Nick Graham

WEST CHESTER TWP. — The lack of qualified employee candidates nationwide is being mirrored locally, said the leader of Lakota Schools during an annual state of the schools event Tuesday put on by an area chamber of commerce.

Regional workforce development was the theme of this year’s event, hosted by the West Chester/Liberty Chamber Alliance, which draws members from two of the fastest growing townships in Butler County.

Besides Lakota, the panel of speakers included officials from Miami University, Butler Tech and Cincinnati State Technical and Community College.

Robb Vogelmann, interim superintendent for Lakota, said finding qualified workers was hard task prior to the pandemic and now is still difficult.

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Fewer college students are pursuing education degrees in recent years and that means fewer candidates for districts like Lakota and others to hire, said Vogelmann.

He said a recent open school position attracted just four applicants.

“Usually we get 90 applicants,” he said.

William Sprankles, assistant superintendent for Butler Tech career schools, told the audience that narrowing the “work force gap” is a daunting challenge.

“At Butler Tech we feel like we are closing the gap but the gap just keeps getting larger,” said Sprankles.

“Even though we are getting better” at focusing and training high school and adult students at the career school system, which enrolls about 18,000, the needs of private employers locally continues to expand.

“It’s like a moving target,” he said.

“I’m thankful there are businesses in this room who recognize this also and they are coming to schools like Butler Tech and Lakota trying to get students as early as possible connected to their organizations.”

Ande Durojaiye, regional dean and vice president of Miami University Regionals, which has campuses in Hamilton and Middletown, said “one of the challenges we have is that the world of work changes so fast.”

Joe Hinson, president and CEO of the Chamber Alliance, said the emphasis on workforce development is key to the continued and future growth of the region as well as the Interstate 75 growth corridor economy in Butler County and beyond.

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So this year’s state of the schools, conducted at the Centre Park of West Chester, focused on “workforce development and what is being done in the schools,” said Hinson.

And, he added, “our sold-out crowd shows the importance our communities place on education on both K-12 and higher education.”

Vogelmann said “we’re trying to be future ready and prepare kids for the future.”

He touted the “interwoven relationships up here” between K-12 schools, career schools and area universities and colleges, all focusing on meeting the needs of local employers.

The expanding option of earning college credit courses while in high school is helping to provide opportunities “in internships in our local places of business.”

(Photojournalist Nick Graham contributed to this story)

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