Last month, Tompkins County Area Development (TCAD) announced it had hired Kathy May as its first director of workforce services. Holding a brand-new position, May said she has her work cut out for her, but she’s up to the challenge.
“My role will be to collaborate with others, to connect with them, to create new programs working together with people in the community who are very interested and committed to workforce development,” May said.
Heather McDaniel, president of TCAD, said the need for a director of workforce services had been growing in recent years as local businesses big and small continue to face issues regarding workforce.
“Workforce is one of the key issues facing business and industry today – finding talent with the right skills, training existing employees and attracting workforce to fill open positions,” McDaniel said. “With the unemployment rate as low as it is, it is increasingly difficult to find talent.”
Over a year ago, TCAD staff began discussions with the county and the Workforce Development Board to determine if there was an opportunity for TCAD to help address some of these issues by collaborating “with the existing local, regional and state workforce stakeholders to facilitate better access to existing resources and add value to this system,” McDaniel said.
“As a not-for-profit organization, TCAD can be more nimble sometimes,” she said. “We want to maximize outcomes – creating quality jobs and keeping businesses located here. … Workforce resources is an important tool to add to our toolbox to ensure that businesses can start, stay and succeed in Ithaca and the region.”
The solution was to create a new position, one tasked with developing workforce training programs and encouraging collaboration with higher education institutions. May, as McDaniel explained, was more than qualified.
“Kathy brings her knowledge of workforce training programs, an enthusiasm for making a difference in the community and her ability to work with multiple stakeholders to get things done,” McDaniel said.
May has been in Ithaca for over 30 years and has accrued over 20 years of experience in administrative management and leadership roles. After achieving her bachelor’s degree in industrial and labor relations from Cornell University, she completed coach training through the Coaches Training Institute.
For many years, May worked at the Johnson Graduate School of Management at Cornell University, and starting in 2013, she served as the on-the-job training grant coordinator for the Tompkins County Chamber of Commerce.
“It was a job that I thought would be very important to helping others, and that’s something that I try to do throughout my career, reach out and help others,” May said. “It was a position that allowed me to work with area businesses and job seekers helping to develop the job-specific training for people to be successful in their employment.”
Through her role at the Chamber and Cornell, May’s love of Ithaca and the county grew as she interacted with many area businesses and learned more about TCAD and its impact on the business community. So when this new position opened, it was something she knew she had to apply for.
“I thought it was a natural fit for me, having worked in the area of professional training and development and coaching,” she said. “It just spoke to me on a very personal level because I really want to give back to the community, to a community that’s given me so much, and I thought this would be the perfect way to help others and to raise the visibility of Ithaca as a great place to live, work and play.”
In her new role, May visits with employers, gathers workforce data and intelligence, and identifies and delivers workforce assistance, according to the TCAD.
“She will be responsible for collaborating with employers, education institutions, local government, state agencies and workforce agencies – including the Tompkins County Workforce Development Board – to advance various strategies,” according to the TCAD.
May said starting out, she’s aiming to connect with more area employers and local leaders to understand what the employer needs are, what’s currently being done, what resources currently exist and where she might be able to help.
“Ithaca is a thriving dynamic community with a wealth of resources, and I look forward to connecting with people and getting their input, listening to the needs, goals, and then working together with others,” May said. “We can really help our businesses and our job-seekers and make a difference.”
McDaniel said May has made good progress thus far, and she looks forward to seeing how May continues to grow in the position.
“Kathy is getting to know all the workforce stakeholders and understand what programs are available,” McDaniel said. “Our hope is that she will be able to add value working directly with businesses to navigate existing resources. If there is opportunity to collaborate on new programs and initiatives, she will be able to step in there, too.”
Overall, McDaniel said she’s glad May is part of the TCAD team, and to hear May tell it, the feeling is mutual.
“TCAD has so many great people working for it and numerous programs that benefit this community, and I hope to contribute to that and give back to Ithaca and the people and places and organizations that have given so much for me,” May said. “It’s been so supportive and welcoming, and I couldn’t ask for a nicer group of people to work with, and I look forward to working with our business leaders and local leaders to strengthen workforce development.”
In an upcoming article, Tompkins Weekly will dive into some of these workforce issues and initiatives and how other organizations and businesses are working to improve labor market conditions.
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