Speech highlights employable skills

The state Department of Education’s standardized tests in core academic subjects will hit many students’ desks this month. But David Volkman said the tests can’t measure the most important qualities a future worker can have.

Volkman, chief of staff to the secretary of education, spoke to the Blair County Chamber of Commerce Breakfast Club at The Casino at Lakemont Park. He addressed several eighth-grade students in attendance.

“Yes, the Department of Education is that agency that brings you those wonderful things called PSSAs and Keystone Exams,” he said. “The federal government requires us to administer those, and by those tests we generate our performance profiles to show how schools are doing.”

Volkman is a former school superintendent.

“As an old guy, I think we need to focus on soft skills: creativity, problem solving and working on a team,” he said. “This is what makes things happen.”

Volkman told students that they would have to be on the cutting edge of bio and nano technology to compete with workers from other countries. And he told students that, “The energy you possess can transform our commonwealth and our country.”

He hopes students stay in Pennsylvania to work.

“These have not been the best of times when you look at the Pennsylvania economy,” he said.”And it will be difficult to attract businesses if trained workers dwindle.”

In his current position, Volkman administers all of the state’s federal and state subsidies and competitive grants for basic education, special education and vocational education. He said $12 billion is the department’s goal for state and federal funding in the 2014-15 school year. He referenced the ongoing state budget negotiations.

“Don’t worry about being better than someone else. Be better than you were the day before,” he told the students.

“You need to include people in your lives. Sharing your dreams is extremely important,” he said. “We all need other people.”

Educators attending the meeting approved of his message.

“I like what he said. If you keep your goal in mind, you will indeed get the inner strength to attain it,” said Kathy O’Rourke, retired coordinator of the Altoona Area’s counseling program and co-founder of the district’s program for aiding students’ goals of attending college.

“That’s the kind of person you want in the PDE. He is a former educator. He understands,” Hollidaysburg Area Superintendent Bob Gildea said.

Volkman ended his speech with a question for the students to ask themselves.

“What would the world be like if everyone behaved like I did?,” he said. “If you treat people the way you want to be treated, you will have a very successful life.”

Mirror Staff Writer Russ O’Reilly is at 946-7435.