LAUNCHing careers in South Central Kentucky
SCK LAUNCH is an initiative of the Bowling Green Area Chamber of Commerce that encourages students to explore local career opportunities, while learning valuable soft-skills at the same time.
“We have about 6,000 open positions in South Central Kentucky right now,” explained Kim Phelps, vice president of communications and public policy at the Bowling Green Chamber. “This is a wonderful place to live and work, but as the community grows, we want our kids to stay, and we want our alumni to come back to work here also.”
The initiative was conceived as an extension of two successful programs in the community: The Leader in Me, which teaches elementary school students about leadership and soft skills; and LEAD, which further develops those skills for middle school students. SCK LAUNCH, in contrast, builds on those programs by exposing teens to local industries to get them thinking about potential careers.
“Our students are learning leadership skills from the time they’re in kindergarten all the way through graduation,” said Phelps. “When they get to high school, it becomes more about laying the hard skills on top of the soft skills, and when students graduate, they will have an industry credential of some kind,” she added.
SCK LAUNCH offers career shadowing to high school students to raise awareness about the variety of careers available in the region. Through the program, teens get the opportunity to tour plants and facilities, meet with employees and observe how they work in their natural environments..
Through “educator externships,” teachers visit companies to learn about the types of jobs offered and the education and skills required. Afterward, they can adjust their curricula and lesson plans to more effectively steer students into local career opportunities.
“A lot of teachers go from high school to college and then straight back to the classroom, so they actually don’t have a clear picture of what they are preparing their students for,” explained Phelps. “These experiences give them context, so they can help students understand why the work they’re doing is valuable.”
Phelps cites the newly-cemented relationship between business and education as the greatest achievement of SCK LAUNCH, and says she hopes collaboration will continue—even after the chamber eventually dials back its own involvement in the initiative.
“One of the things that has been so unique and rewarding for us is having the business and education communities sit down at the same table, look each other in the eye and actually talk to one another,” she said. “At the end of the day, the integration of the career mindset in our schools is really the goal.”
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The case for internships
When it comes to landing that first job after college, research shows that completing an internship makes a world of difference in the eyes of hiring managers. Aside from providing students with work-based learning experiences, internships are used by communities to build talent pipelines that funnel students into the workforce.
The Fellowship for Education Attainment challenges chamber professionals to develop regional action plans that address specific education needs in their communities. Below, descriptions of plans devised by two former Fellows offer case studies on how to set up a successful internship program in your community.
Pathways to Pipelines
In the Chicago area, most employers judge internship experience as more valuable than other academic credentials, says Anne Kisting, executive director at the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce Foundation.
In addition to helping students find jobs, Kisting figured internships could also solve a chronic problem facing regional employers—a severe shortage of IT talent. This led the chamber, in partnership with its local school district, to expand the Pathways to Pipelines initiative, which connects high school STEM students with small businesses from the community.
“We’re giving these students meaningful, work-based learning experiences that make them more attractive for employment,” says Kisting. “Some of these students come from schools in disadvantaged neighborhoods, so these kinds of internships are a way to level the playing field.”
The chamber educates businesses owners about best practices in internships, including the need for soft skills training. To ensure success, the chamber hosted an education session for business owners on the topic of managing internships.
“It sounds intuitive, but it’s not,” says Kisting. “We equip small business owners with tips and advice to make this an optimal experience all-around. Being aware of the need for soft skills and being willing to work on them is essential.”
Kisting plans to work with local colleges to create a more direct school-to-employer pipeline and engage larger businesses by expanding the Pathways program. She also wants to see employers gain more perspective on internships and the myriad benefits they offer.
“I envision this expanding into the college internship space, so that a meaningful IT talent pipeline is created for employers in the Chicagoland region,” she says, adding: “I also hope that employers will be more educated about the return on investment in internships.”
In Springfield, Ohio, a city of 59,000 wedged partway between Columbus and Dayton, Amy Donahoe, director of workforce development at the Chamber of Greater Springfield, sought a way to use her regional action plan as a springboard to retain a larger share of the intern talent, much of which leaves the city after college and never returns.
“The main goal of Career Sync is to take the young talent while they’re working here for the summer and engage them in more aspects of the community,” said Donahoe. "We want to engage them with people and events and show them what we’re all about and the type of people that are here.”
Donahoe engaged local young professional groups to help brainstorm ways to enhance the internship experience in the city, efforts which culminated in a series of four educational and networking sessions, in which YPs would teach interns about topics like networking and personal branding, community attractions, negotiating compensation packages and investing and retirement savings.
Through Career Sync, the chamber was able to link up prominent employers with well-established internship programs like Speedway LLC, the gas station and convenience store chain headquartered in Clark County, with other, smaller businesses that are considering setting up their own internship programs. Career Sync also assigned young professionals as mentors to the interns to guide them and help them grow professionally.
Donahoe intends to grow Career Sync and establish a fundraising plan to raise money for the program, which had relied on volunteer time and donations for the educational sessions. She hopes to organize a larger event, like a sports game, to engage more interns and young professionals.
“I want to really engage a larger group of interns, so incorporating a big event is something we can do,” said Donahoe. “Based on the feedback I got from employers, it seems like they all think this is something that can grow bigger and have more of an impact in the future.”