By SHEILA NELSON
Special to The SWT
It is a major concern throughout Southwest Virginia that potential employers are not coming to the region due to the lack of workers having the skills they need. For the past several years, Pulaski County Chamber of Commerce and Pulaski County Public Schools have partnered to reach out to local businesses to discover the skills and certifications needed for the types of jobs they offer.
At a recent Chamber meeting, Dr. Thomas Brewster, superintendent of schools, addressed those concerns as he spoke about “Building Partnerships and Student Career Awareness Through Chamber and School Collaboration.”
The partnership the school system and Chamber share serves to bring the needs of businesses to public education in order to prepare students for post-secondary education and the workforce. It began a few years ago with YEP, the Youth Excel Program. Through YEP, 11th grade students were given the opportunity to shadow a professional for a day. A variety of career options were offered and employers were gracious in giving their time to work with students.
Eighth grade Reality Day developed because the schools wanted students to have a career plan as early as seventh grade. At Reality Day, students draw at random a job, income, marital and parental status. Students then visit a number of booths where they experience some of the financial realities of the adult world. One of the biggest shocks begins at the first booth when students pay a visit to Uncle Sam and taxes are deducted from their wages. The expense of child care is another eye-opener for many of the students.
The Chamber, in conjunction with Pulaski County 4-H, also offers a Kids Market Place to the county’s fifth graders, a program much like Reality Day but with more age-appropriate information.
Brewster also spoke about the Government’s STEM Academy. The Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) Education Coalition works to support STEM programs for teachers and students at the U.S. Department of Education, the National Science Foundation, and other agencies that offer STEM-related programs. The STEM Education Coalition represents all sectors of the technological workforce – from knowledge workers, to educators, to scientists, engineers and technicians. Participating organizations of the STEM Education Coalition are dedicated to ensuring quality STEM education at all levels. To learn more, visit www.stemedcoalition.org.
Pulaski County Public Schools are already partnering with New River Community College on a dual enrollment program. This program enables students to earn college, as well as high school, credit for certain classes. The eventual goal is to enable participating students to have completed a two-year community college degree by the time they graduate from high school.
Not only are students in such fields as engineering, production and construction involved, but academic subjects are included as well. Such programs are often able to persuade students who don’t believe they can do college work that they can, with students rising to the expectations set forth by mentors that surround them. Students also learn about all the career opportunities that exist in their hometown.
Statistics indicate that the success rate is much higher for dual enrollment students than for those not engaged in such a program. Not only does dual enrollment give a student a head start on their college career, but it also helps reduce the expenses of a college education.
The Chamber, which currently operates the Pulaski County Corporate Roundtable, also works with leaders of industry and business to discover the certifications they require to successfully fill the jobs they have to offer. The Chamber then communicates this information to the school system and community college.
The partnership of the Chamber, public schools, community college, and area businesses and industries is a powerful four-prong approach used to help students develop the skills needed to enter the workforce – with the idea of creating a thriving community of businesses for years to come.