CHESTER -- Ron Westbrook stood disheartened in February when only a few people showed up to a job training workshop at Chester Middle School.
The director of Chester County Adult Education, Westbrook organized the event after seeing workers who had spent years, sometimes decades, toiling in the county's textile mills only to find themselves suddenly jobless, not knowing where to turn.
But he was undeterred, and he's hoping an intense marketing campaign will pay off tonight.
At 6:30 p.m., 14 speakers again will come to Chester Middle to tell unemployed workers what modern companies are looking for in their employees.
To promote the event, Westbrook advertised the workshop on three billboards in the county. He also reached out to local churches, telling them about the program and hoping they, too, would get the word out.
His message was simple: This event can help people.
"There's no excuse why they shouldn't come," Westbrook said. "The bottom line is: If they don't, I'll be able to sleep nice 'cause I know I have done everything in my power to get people there."
Chester County's employment outlook is bleak. More than 4,000 jobs have left the county since 2002, many of them from the dying textile industry.
The county has the fifth-highest unemployment rate in the state, according to the latest figures from the S.C. Employment Security Commission.
Despite the tough times, Westbrook believes the job situation will change.
But residents must be prepared for the jobs that will come, he said, and tonight can be the first step toward that goal.
The program is called a JOBS training workshop. JOBS is an acronym that stands for Job Opportunity Basic Skills.
The workshop focuses on nine qualities or certifications companies want their employees to possess. Those requirements range from holding a GED to the ability to read charts and graphs.
The needs of the job market are changing quickly, Westbrook said, and those looking for work must learn fast.
"We've got to start training people now for jobs that don't exist, but will," Westbrook said.
One of tonight's speakers is Danelle Faulkenberry, the education director at the Fort Lawn Community Center. She plans to discuss the center's classes and also offer hope to people who worry about going back to school.
"This is an opportunity for the unemployed workers to actually see that there are more options," she said. "They don't have to go to school with the teenagers, and they don't have to compete in a large classroom for attention. There are programs out there that will help them on a one-on-one basis at their skill levels. They're not just going to be tossed in a school and (told), 'Make it or don't.'"
The following people will speak at tonight's job training workshop:
• Jim Fuller, Chester County Chamber of Commerce
• Glenda Parkman, S.C. Employment Security Commission
• Joan Winters, Chester County's attorney
• Dee Fedrick, Chester Literacy Council
• James Hughes, WIA Palmetto Youth Connection
• Ann Hayes, Founders Federal Credit Union
• Robert Barber, WIA One-Stop Services
• Vicky Manning, Vocational Rehabilitation
• Mike Wessinger, Chester County Connector
• Beth Blackwell, York Technical College
• Jim Paolone, Edward Jones Investments
• Lee Green, Chester County Career Center
• Danelle Faulkenberry, Fort Lawn Community Center
• Ron Westbrook, Chester County Adult Education
WANT TO GO?
A job training workshop for Chester County residents will begin at 6:30 p.m. inside Chester Middle School's auditorium. The purpose of the event is to explain what skills the unemployed need to find a job in the modern workplace.
The Chester County Connector, a local public transportation service, will offer free rides to the workshop. To schedule a pickup, call (803) 385-3838, Ext. 29., before 2 p.m.