At our last Wake Up West Coast Breakfast event, a panel of higher education administrators took the stage to answer questions about the complex subject of talent development, and how they are preparing students for jobs available now and those projected for the future. These Superintendents and Community College Presidents shared about the numerous degree and certificate programs that they offer to students and adults, and about how they collaborate with each other to avoid duplication of services and maximize the resources available for career preparation.
It’s no secret that employers in our area, and throughout the country for that matter, are finding it increasingly difficult to find enough candidates with the appropriate skills needed to fill open positions, and that the solution lies in exposing students to the vast array of careers available and helping them find the pathway to success in the career that best fits their interests. While the solution is simple enough to discern, it’s not so simple to execute. Success in this arena requires the collaboration of our entire community, from students, to parents, to schools, to businesses, to public policy makers. This breakfast reinforced the fact that the Chamber is the organization poised to bring these key players together to strategize and develop plans that can be put into action.
A significant piece of the talent development puzzle lies in the tremendous impact that business partnerships make toward helping develop relevant programs that prepare students for the jobs that are waiting for them. It’s a win-win when a student discovers a career and the program exists to prepare them with the exact skills required for employment. It creates opportunities for both student and employer, and employers are eagerly coming to the table to help schools design the programs that will prepare their future workers. The Ottawa Area Intermediate School District (OAISD), under the direction of Pete Haines, Superintendent, develops and coordinates the programs that address this need in our area.
Fundamental to the success of the programs is finding numerous ways to introduce students to the variety of career options available while they are still young enough to enter into programs that begin in high school. Giving them the opportunity to see and try out these jobs first-hand, to get an idea of the compensation they could expect, and to discover the career path that exists beyond the first job makes all the difference in a student choosing these programs. The OAISD coordinates these types of opportunities, and Chamber employers are eager to know how they can participate and get out in front of the students who are potential employees for their businesses.
Work-based Learning is an educational strategy that provides students with real-life work experiences where they can apply academic and technical skills and develop their employability. It merges theory with practice and acknowledges that learning happens outside of a classroom and much as it does inside, if not more so. Programs provide career awareness, career exploration opportunities, and career planning activities and help students acquire both the soft and hard skills needed to set them up for success.
Work-based learning encompasses a diversity of arrangements including apprenticeships, work placement and informal learning on the job. Many local businesses are already involved in working with educators and students in programs such as Careerline Tech, Thompson M-TECH, Grand Rapids Community College and Muskegon Community College, and the conversations at our Wake Up West Coast Breakfast clearly indicate that there is much more opportunity to expand on this good start. The hour-long meeting between educators and employers that took place after the breakfast ended raised many topics that require further exploration. Topics ranged from the challenges of educating parents to the opportunities that work-based learning offers, to finding ways to entice AP students to consider skilled trades careers and working with the schools’ curriculums to give them flexible scheduling options to be able to attend, to looking at ways to make these programs even more affordable for interested students, to finding alternate locations where learning can take place.
Dr. Bill Pink, President of Grand Rapids Community College and Dr. Dale Nesbary, President of Muskegon Community College both emphasized the need to have these meetings with employers to help programs grow and be successful. As Dr. Nesbary pointed out, “There are systems in place to have these conversations. We’re all members of THIS Chamber. Let’s talk about these issues on a monthly basis.”
“When we have this type of convening again, I want to have my workforce people and my Deans here with me, because I need them to sit and listen to you to hear where we can provide more of what you need,” said Dr. Pink. “We need to get together on a regular basis. It can’t be one and done. This is how we build our consortium to advise Lansing and our communities on what we need to create opportunities for students. This isn’t an education issue as much as it’s a community issue. It’s about how we are educating our population and raising our community.”
The Chamber is committed to convening more meetings of key educational players and Chamber businesses. This initial gathering was assembled at the request of AllRout’s Jeff Robinson, who is a member of the West Coast Chamber’s Manufacturers Affinity Group. Plans for follow-up meetings are building steam as more partners request to be involved. Dr. Pink summed it up by saying, “It makes such sense for the West Coast Chamber to put this together. This is how we build our network.”