Genesee County BEA adjusts its game plan to keep students plugged in to potential employers
Genesee’s large employers have stepped up to “premier” status in their continued support of the county’s Business/Education Alliance, a shared-services partnership offered by Genesee Valley BOCES to connect skilled trade-oriented students with the business community.
Director Karyn Winters (photo at right) on Monday afternoon updated members of the Genesee County Legislature’s Human Services Committee on BEA activity over the past year – emphasizing the many adjustments that were made to counteract COVID-19’s negative effect on programming and finances.
Afterward, in a telephone interview with The Batavian, she expounded upon some of these measures, which included introducing the Genesee County Premier Workforce Membership to big companies.
“The time seemed right this year because we knew that with our smaller businesses – the mom-and-pop shops who have normally been able and have been very supportive of the BEA – that things were probably going to be very tight budget-wise,” said Winters, a Pavilion native who has been serving as BEA director since 2017.
Winters said she expected a decrease in contributions this year due to the impact upon small businesses due to the coronavirus, but also realized that the larger companies were flourishing.
“We knew that our friends at Liberty Pumps, business is booming there, weren’t stretched financially, and we could ask for a lump sum of money to support us as the need was there to hire immediately,” she said. “We knew that this would be a good opportunity to approach those larger companies to just continue to support our mission.”
Seven Companies at the ‘Premier’ Level
Liberty Pumps, along with Bonduelle USA, Genesee County Economic Development Center (GCEDC), HP Hood, O-AT-KA Milk Products, Turnbull Heating & Air Conditioning, and U.S. Gypsum, signed on to contribute $5,000 annually for the Premier Workforce Membership.
“We thought it might be valuable for those companies to save them some time and energy to just approach them once a year and say, for a flat rate, they could provide funding for all BEA events and services, rather than following up with them for donations for different events throughout the year,” she said.
These seven companies will receive: a gold sponsorship (valued at $2,500) of the GLOW with Your Hands career exploration event scheduled for Sept. 28 at the Genesee County Fairgrounds; a BEA Business Membership; sponsorship for all BEA summer career exploration camps and career days; a job fair for graduating seniors in June; and funding and support for purchasing specialized equipment needed in elementary, middle and high schools.
“The job fair is important for companies that have entry-level openings – where they can meet and potentially hire senior class members on the spot,” Winters said. “How nice for those seniors who might not be on the track to go to college to say I have a job lined up and my employer potentially has benefits that I’m going to need as an adult. I see it as a win-win for different organizations and for our community in general.”
Winters said having to cancel BEA’s various in-person career events during the 2020-21 school year and switch to virtual settings was disappointing, to say the least.
A Back to the Blackboard Moment
“Most of our programs have been in person, and we’ve never experienced anything like this where we’ve had to completely reinvent ourselves to allow us to continue to provide that career exploration programming while maintaining social distancing,” she said. “So, it was very much a back to the blackboard, rethink everything kind of moment for us … There was a lot of prediction of what we could do, and then just kind of diving in and going for it.”
She said the BEA utilized YouTube, Zoom and Google Meet to show career interviews and to connect people as best as possible.
“Even with Junior Achievement, one of the programs that we administer here in Genesee County, we had to reimagine the online format, and had to make sure that people were aware that the program still existed,” she said. “Nothing really changed except for a new format.”
Still, Winters said she can’t wait for a return to in-person learning and programming.
“I think this whole experience has kind of reinforced the importance of interacting with different people who have different perspectives and backgrounds. It just enhances what students are aware of career-wise and what is possible for them, too,” she offered. “I’m not saying that ‘virtual’ can’t provide that, but there’s something about the in-person that is that much more valuable, and I am looking forward to bringing that back when it is safe to do so.”
When exploring the BEA’s finances, it is evident that it is getting the most from its budget – which was a bit more than $71,000 for 2020-21.
Winters said the agency receives most of its backing from the school districts that are part of Genesee Valley BOCES, and also gets money from the business members and Genesee County.
Cost-sharing Makes Things Work
“Since we’re a shared service, each district pays on annual fee (which is partially reimbursed by New York State), she said, noting that school money covers her salary and benefits. “Schools receive great, quality programs at a fraction of the cost.”
Businesses pay anywhere from $100 to $220 per year, depending upon the number of employees, she said, with this money supporting career day events, scholarships and summer career camps.
“It makes those camps affordable for families, too, as we only charge $95 per student,” she said.
Funding from Genesee County has leveled out at $3,107 annually for the past five years, which equates to 40 cents per student based on 7,717 students under the Genesee Valley BOCES umbrella.
In her report, she noted that Wyoming County contributes $4,300 to its workforce development program, which breaks down to 89 cents per student.
“That is there more to point out how other counties are supporting their workforce development office and the value of that support,” Winters said. “It’s not necessarily to shame the county because I am more than grateful that Genesee County does contribute to the BEA. I think it is important that they do contribute.”
Winters said county funding is “crucial because we typically run a $1,000 to $3,000 deficit each year and that helps to fill our gaps so that we come out pretty balanced.”
Stein: County is Doing What it Can
Following Monday’s Human Services Committee meeting, Legislature Chair Rochelle Stein was asked about the county’s contribution in light of the challenges the BEA had been facing.
“The contract is based on our budget that we put together last November,” Stein said. “And because we have to budget that year ahead, changing that now -- without a full conversation -- is not going to happen.”
Stein pointed to the county’s “generous” history of sharing sales tax with outside agencies, but acknowledged that currently the county is “handcuffed in supporting those agencies that we would really like to.”
“The BEA has always been one that we knew that was shorted for the activities that they are doing, and the career exploration that they provide for our young people, and to bring them back to the careers that are here at home,” she said. “Yes, Karen makes a great case, but we also have the partnership in workforce development at the GCEDC, which helps to augment those career explorations. That’s one of their pillars and I know that they work really well together, right now, especially for our food processing industries and our mechatronic career exploration.”
Winters also thanked the Genesee County Chamber of Commerce for donating office space to the BEA at its Park Road location.
“That is a huge part of our budget. Because we have that connection and the Chamber believes in our mission, it allows us to operate on a shoestring budget,” she said.
As things seemingly are getting back to normal, Winters said plans are to hold three career exploration camps for middle school students in July – two culinary arts camps (Taste of Italy and Cookie Camp) and Camp Hard Hat. Each camp will be limited to 15 students.
For more information on the June job fair and the July summer camps, go to the BEA website – www.beagenesee.com.