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SkillsNet: Empowering People with Skills, Education

A unique state initiative is aiming to empower individuals by increasing access to education and offering greater opportunities for learning and growth.

The “SkillsNet Internet-Based Training Project” is being coordinated by Pennsylvania College of Technology, an affiliate of The Pennsylvania State University. Penn College’s Technology Transfer Center, respected throughout the state for its extensive outreach to business and industry and continuing education efforts, is spearheading the initiative.

SkillsNet has received a $262,000 grant for its first year from the Commonwealth’s Link-to-Learn Infrastructure Investment Project, Gov. Tom Ridge’s three-year, $132 million initiative aimed at expanding the use of technology in the classroom, including new and upgraded computers for schools and technology training for teachers. Complementing the grant is $107,024 in contributions from Penn College, which brings the total SkillsNet project cost to $369,024.

For its part, SkillsNet will provide access to Adult Basic Education and General Educational Development courseware to a wide and diverse population across 17 Central Pennsylvania counties. SkillsNet has equipped 11 sites, representing education, industry and community organizations, with computer hardware and software for accessing Internet-based instructional courseware ranging from basic literacy skills to job skills training.

Thomas G. Woodson, SkillsNet project director, says individuals who will benefit from SkillsNet include those seeking to improve their math or reading abilities, obtain a GED or upgrade skills for career mobility, or individuals referred by business or industry to gain new skills. Whether participants have personal educational or career goals or are in need of training to succeed at their current job, the project will be able to provide a range of services.

“We’re offering people opportunity,” Woodson cited, “and the key to this is making it convenient for people. We’re not limiting access by placing the computer hardware and software in exclusive settings; we’re putting the tools into the community in centers that may not normally be involved.

“The bottom line is access,” he added. “By placing the equipment in a variety of community locations, we’re making it convenient for a wide range of people to gain skills and education.”

A mall setting is among the more unique, and certainly accessible, learning environments. The Lifelong Learning Center, Schuylkill IU #29, is located in the Schuylkill Mall in Frackville.

In addition to Schuylkill IU #29, other locales uniting as SkillsNet partner sites include: Abington Heights Alternative School, Clarks Summit; Central Intermediate Unit #10, at the Development Center for Adults in Lock Haven; the Industrial Modernization Center, in Montoursville; Penn College”s North Campus near Wellsboro; SUN Area Career and Technology Center, New Berlin; Union County Job Training, at the Community Service Center in Lewisburg; Warren County Career Center at the Warren/Forest Higher Education Council in Warren, and the following Williamsport sites: Center Manufacturing Inc., Lycoming-Clinton Counties Commission for Community Action (STEP, Inc.), and Williamsport Wirerope Works, Inc. Another partner is TRO Learning, Inc., the producer of P.L.A.T.O., the Internet-based courseware being utilized by the project.

The P.L.A.T.O. curricula offers a varied and comprehensive array of skills training which can be individualized for each learner. The learning is self-paced and aims to increase comprehension and retention of information through constant reinforcement. The student must fully comprehend and master a learning activity before being able to move on to the next activity.

In addition to math and reading skills (basic to advanced), other training offered through P.L.A.T.O. includes business writing, quality concepts, life and job skills, and interpersonal communication skills.

Another objective of SkillsNet is to demonstrate a model for continuing to expand literacy education to inadequately served populations throughout the state. “SkillsNet establishes an innovative statewide model for addressing the problem of inadequate literacy skills in our communities,” Woodson added.

Further information on the SkillsNet project can be obtained from the partner sites or by contacting Woodson at Penn College, (570) 327-4277.

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