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BAVTS Students Master Professional Skills in Course Inspired by Lehigh Valley Talent Study

By Nicole Radzievich Mertz on April 7, 2022

Bethlehem Area Vocational Technical School celebrated 23 students who earned their certification in professional skills during an April 5 ceremony at the school in Bethlehem Township. (Photo Courtesy of BAVTS)

Already armed with the technical skills employers need, 23 of the most elite Bethlehem Area Vocational Technical School students recently celebrated their completion of a program that developed the other ones employers demand: professional skills.

During a 14-week course, those high school students learned how to sell their strengths, evaluate job offers, handle conflict, communicate, collaborate, organize, and many other “employability skills.”

Or, as school Executive Director Adam Lazarchak puts it, “Work ethic.”

“Business and industry have stated they would rather hire great employees and train them for the job rather than individuals with the necessary talents but lack the skills to keep the job,” Lazarchak said April 5 during the Professional Skills Certification ceremony held at the school in Bethlehem Township. “We created this program so we could guarantee employers that if they hire one of these individuals being recognized today, they would be getting a great employee.”

He recognized the Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corporation (LVEDC) for leading the 2018 Education and Talent Supply Report, which identified the need to develop employability skills and laid the foundation for the course.

Northampton Community College developed the curriculum for the professional skills course, and BAVTS Bridge Foundation provided $5,600 for the program this year.  The funding comes from Educational Improvement Tax Credit program donations from various businesses in the Lehigh Valley.

NCC instructors Anita Krick and Peg Wakstein taught the course. The program also featured guest presentations by local employers who imparted advice about the reality of work and took questions. Students also mapped out their next steps to achieve their career aspirations.

Jazmine Rodriguez, a student in the the Health Careers program, receives her Professional Skills Certificate from BAVTS Executive Director Adam Lazarchak. (Photo Courtesy of BAVTS)

About 75 students completed the course since it debuted three years ago. The students this year were selected among 403 seniors for the program based on their attitude, responsibility, attendance, and work ethic. Forty students were admitted into the program this year, but just 23 completed it.

Among them was Brandon Koch, an 18-year-old masonry student from Northampton Area School District.

“I learned how to network, communicate and write a resume that really sells yourself,” Koch said. “I wanted to take this course so I could enhance my ability to realize my dreams.”

Kathyrn Testa, a 17-year-old cosmetology student from Liberty High School, said she re-evaluated her career goals during the course and will now explore becoming a phlebotomist. She said she wants to help people, and the communications skills she learned during the certification course will help see her through no matter what she decides to pursue.

“Communications was a very strong skill to learn, and it’s not easy for a teenager growing up in a pandemic,” Testa said.

Karianne Gelinas, LVEDC Vice President of Regional Partnerships and Talent Strategies, said the students are in a more competitive position to obtain meaningful and good-paying employment because of the program.

“Employability and professional skills are a priority mentioned by employers over and over again across occupations, industries, location, and time. They are critical for success in today’s market,” she said. “The fact that Bethlehem Area Vocational Technical School and Northampton Community College acted swiftly to support students and employers alike is a testament to the forward thinking and flexibility of these education partners in responding to the community they serve.  Growing these types of opportunities in the Lehigh Valley strengthens our workforce and region.”

The work on strengthening the talent pipeline continues. LVEDC and the Workforce Board Lehigh Valley recently released the 2022 talent study update, which reaffirms regional partnerships and recommends future strategies to strengthen the talent pipeline. The in-depth study chronicles the successes and challenges employers are facing in the Lehigh Valley and offers insights into the post-pandemic economy. It identifies industry trends, strengths of key industry sectors, opportunities to grow meaningful employment, projected hiring gaps, and strategies to address workforce issues.

The assessment of the talent market is just one of the many award-winning initiatives of the LVEDC’s Education and Talent Supply Council, a regional coalition formed in 2015. The council brings together leaders from business, education, and community organizations to identify talent market gaps and opportunities.

In addition to employability skills, which the BAVTS program addresses, the council has made significant progress in other identified areas of need, which include expanding internship opportunities, educating students on career pathways, attracting and retaining talent, and conducting additional research.

The council has hosted three Internship Summits to encourage the creation and expansion of internship opportunities between Lehigh Valley employers and colleges. LVEDC also has published an Internship Toolkit of best practices for employers and a directory of Career Development contacts and information available at Lehigh Valley colleges and universities.

Another important initiative led by the council that addresses career pathway education is the creation of Hot Career Guides, an annual compilation researched by LVEDC of the most in-demand occupations in the Lehigh Valley according to job postings with accompanying information on the educational requirements and earnings potential of those jobs.

To support talent attraction and retention, LVEDC and multiple partners have developed the Made Possible in Lehigh Valley campaign to tell the region’s story as a great place to visit, learn, live, and work.

To get involved in regional talent strategies efforts or to receive a copy of the report, contact Karianne Gelinas, Vice President of Regional Partnerships and Talent Strategies, at [email protected]

To learn more about the Professional Certification program, please contact Madeline Sinkler, Development and Marketing Director, Bridges Foundation, at [email protected]

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