Education Attainment Division
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.”
Chamber leaders accepted to Fellowship
Leaders from 21 chambers of commerce, representing communities throughout the United States, have been selected to participate in ACCE’s Fellowship for Education Attainment.
The Fellowship is an immersive executive development program that provides chamber of commerce professionals with education and tools to improve the birth-to-career education pipeline in the communities they serve.
Throughout the year-long experience, Fellows work to develop a regional action plan that focuses on addressing specific education attainment or workforce development issues in their communities.
Congratulations to this year’s Fellows!
Director, Workforce Development & Education
Little Rock Regional Chamber
Little Rock, Arkansas
Manager of Public Affairs
Kentucky Chamber of Commerce
Cathy Burwell, IOM
President & CEO
Helena Area Chamber of Commerce
Director, Education Policy
Metro Atlanta Chamber
Senior Vice President for Education and Workforce
Tulsa Regional Chamber of Commerce
Christopher Cooney, IOM, CCE
President & CEO
Metro South Chamber of Commerce
Director of Workforce Initiatives
Augusta Metro Chamber of Commerce
Manager, Education Attainment
Detroit Regional Chamber Foundation
Dexter Freeman, II
Director of Intelligence, Innovation, & Education
Irving-Las Colinas Chamber of Commerce
Christy Gillenwater, IOM, CCE
President & CEO
Southwest Indiana Chamber
Director of Community & Government Relations
North Orange County Chamber
Angelle Laborde, CCE
President & CEO
Greenwood Area Chamber of Commerce
Greenwood, South Carolina
Government Affairs Manager
North Carolina Chamber
Raleigh, North Carolina
Manager, Government Affairs
The Business Council of New York State
Albany, New York
Dr. Gilda Ramirez
Vice President, Small Business & Education
United Corpus Christi Chamber of Commerce
Corpus Christi, Texas
Chris Romer, IOM
President & CEO
Vail Valley Partnership
JoAnn Sasse Givens
Director of Workforce Development
Effingham County Chamber of Commerce
Mary Anne Sheahan
Executive Director of Leadership & Workforce Development
Lake Champlain Regional Chamber of Commerce
Vice President of Workforce & Education
President & CEO
Mason Deerfield Chamber
Vice President, Foundation Supports & Grant Management
Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce
Brooklyn, New York
Find more information about ACCE’s Fellowship for Education Attainment here, or contact Molly Blankenship, community advancement coordinator, by email or phone at 703-998-3530. ACCE will begin accepting applications for the next Fellowship cohort in May, 2018.
New soft skills resource page added
Employers are finding that the arriving workforce has a shortage of soft skills—traits like communication, problem-solving and teamwork. That said, ACCE has just launched a new resource page with tools designed to help your chamber of commerce support the competent, well-adjusted workforce that business needs to thrive.
From case studies about chamber-led soft skills campaigns to deep-diving scholarly articles about character development, we've got you covered. These resources guide chambers as they work to instill strong character and build work ethic among the next generation of leaders.
Building the Lodi Jobs Academy
As Baby Boomers near retirement, employers are scrambling to find skilled workers to fill a raft of new vacancies. Among the hardest to fill are so-called “middle skills” jobs, which require more education than a high school diploma, but less than a bachelor’s degree.
At the Lodi Chamber of Commerce, CEO Pat Patrick partnered with the local school district to create the Jobs Academy, which strives to equip students with the skills and education that employers seek. The academy stems from Patrick’s experience at the ACCE Fellowship for Education Attainment, a one-year program that challenges chamber execs to dream up regional action plans that address education needs in their communities.
Patrick says the academy will lower dropout rates in Lodi and prepare students for high-paying local careers. “Our goals are to reduce dropouts between ninth and tenth grade, to increase community college attendance and to help students find work here in the community,” said Patrick.
The academy was born out of a partnership between the local school district, the chamber and its industrial business group, a group of area manufacturers. To develop the curriculum, the chamber formed a series of “skills panels,” which consist of representatives from local industries like health, manufacturing and IT.
“We are bringing business together with educators to make sure the schools are teaching what businesses need them to,” explained Patrick. “The state of California is finally waking up and putting money into the system for this type of thing, so we really hit it at just the right time.”
In addition to building a skilled workforce, the academy focuses on teaching “soft skills,” the kinds of personal attributes that employers look for in workers, like responsibility, timeliness and communication. The academy, which offers a professional certification, will serve as a filter for employers to find students who are committed to working in the community.
“The idea is that employers will meet students and say, ‘this is someone we would like to have join us when they graduate,’” said Patrick. “It acts as a filter to find serious future employees and prepares them for a job that is far beyond minimum wage.”
The academy also contains an adult school, which caters mainly to young adults ages 18-24, although there is no official age limit. The adult school holds class during night hours, while the campus is reserved for middle and high school students during the day. Many of the adult students never finished high school and are looking for middle skills jobs that don’t require a college degree.
To promote the academy, the chamber used social media and robocalls to reach out to students and parents in the community. The chamber also plans to produce a series of promotional videos that will be shown in schools and online. Students will have the opportunity to attend a business fair and tour local plants to learn about the kinds of jobs that exist in the community.
Patrick credits the ACCE Fellowship for provided him with the resources and inspiration to pursue the initiative. “The Fellowship was invaluable to me, because I was exposed to a lot of ideas that expanded my thinking,” said Patrick. “The exposure to corporations like the Lumina Foundation and the research they’ve done helped me understand how to sell our program to the manufacturers back home.”
Looking ahead, Patrick is hopeful that the Jobs Academy will expand into neighboring North Stockton, a city of 300,000 just north of Lodi. “My hope is that we’ll be able to pull students from Stockton into an expanded campus and form a partnership with the Stockton district,” said Patrick. “I would love to see this move from a small community to a regional effort.”
Chamber pros tackle education pipeline, celebrate graduation
A group of 20 chamber of commerce professionals is celebrating this week because they’ve just completed ACCE’s year-long Fellowship for Education Attainment, which wrapped up Wednesday with an event in Indianapolis.
The 20 Fellows were invited to participate in the immersive fellowship program based on a handful of qualifications. Fellows must demonstrate a commitment to improving the birth-to-career education pipeline in the communities they serve. And, a community’s education attainment goals must be already defined by the chamber of commerce for applicants to be considered for the Fellowship.
“My favorite part of the Fellowship program is seeing how relationships are built amongst the Fellows,” says Michelle Vegliante, senior manager for community advancement at ACCE. “By the final session, they each leave with nineteen close-knit colleagues that they can call on for guidance and support. The transformation from peer acquaintance to lifelong friend is extremely rewarding to see.”
During the year-long program, Fellows study best practices in education attainment through interaction with national experts and inclusion in an unmatched peer-to-peer network that includes former Fellows. Each Fellow develops a Regional Action Plan that identifies and addresses specific education attainment and workforce development issues that impact the community they represent. Work conducted throughout the year-long program is compiled and included in a final summary report.
“There is no greater way to serve your members than by establishing a workforce that will economically sustain your community,” comments Pat Patrick, president and CEO of the Lodi Chamber of Commerce. “Postsecondary education is the answer, and ACCE’s Educational Attainment Fellowship is the best way to prepare for this critical challenge.”
The Fellowship for Education Attainment was launched in 2014 to provide chamber professionals with guidance and resources to mobilize efforts that improve education outcomes U.S. communities. As the Fellowship grows, ACCE tasks Fellows with helping chamber peers around the country build replicable programs in their communities.
“It’s nearly impossible to condense the superlatives about this Fellowship experience into a small space,” says Ann Kisting, executive director at the Chicagoland Chamber Foundation. “The sharing of insights, ideas and resources made this an inspiring, energizing and truly invaluable experience.”
You can meet the 2016–17 Fellows and check out their Regional Action Plan Summaries here.
Hewlett Foundation Grant to Boost ACCE Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Work
Increasing diversity, equity and inclusion throughout the chamber movement is a major priority for the Association of Chamber of Commerce Executives (ACCE). We believe that communities with a local chamber fully committed to diversity and economic inclusion are better equipped to improve community, civic, and economic vitality.
ACCE’s diversity and inclusion efforts received a boost earlier this year when the Community Growth Education Foundation was selected to participate in a William and Flora Hewlett Foundation pilot project. The Hewlett Foundation selected 10 of its deeper learning grantees to receive a planning grant to help build capacity and strengthen organizational effectiveness in the areas of diversity, equity and inclusion.
As part of the project, ACCE will better articulate the business case for chamber-led efforts to promote diversity, equity and inclusion in communities across the country. We will also arm chamber leaders with the resources they need to make the case to their boards of directors, business members, and other community stakeholders.
One element of our efforts over the next year will be to develop a chamber-specific business case for economic inclusion. We have commissioned professors Chris Benner Ph.D., of the University of California, Santa Cruz and Manual Pastor, Ph.D., of the University of Southern California to lead the research effort. The goal for the publication is to spark a dialogue around economic inclusion and diversity issues throughout the chamber industry.
ACCE’s focus on D&I began with the 2011 launch of the Diversity & Inclusion Division to provide chamber professionals a forum to discuss workforce, workplace and marketplace diversity and inclusion initiatives. Through D&I Division programming and peer sharing, ACCE advances equity issues throughout the chamber profession and encourages chamber leaders to pursue efforts to build more economically and socially inclusive regions.
You can learn more about ACCE’s D&I Division online here.
Free E-Newsletters Worth Subscribing To
Ever wonder how ACCE’s Education Attainment Division (EAD) team stays up to date on all things education and workforce development related? We take advantage of the many free e-newsletters available and wanted to share a few of our favorites with you. From equity to fundraising, this is by no means an exhaustive list, but rather a collection of the ones we have found to be most valuable.
Collective Impact Forum Newsletters
Content related to collective impact, includes case studies, tools, and resources from Collective Impact Forum / Note: You must make a profile to receive emails.
Economic & Workforce Development
Content related to economic development, workforce, and labor issues, includes resources curated from around the web and programs of the Council for Community & Economic Research (C2ER).
National Skills Coalition Monthly
Content related to workforce, education, and training policies, includes news curated from the web and resources created by the National Skills Coalition.
Content related to economic development through science, technology, innovation and entrepreneurship, includes news curated from around the web and analysis from the State Science & Technology Institute (SSTI).
U.S. Chamber Center for Education and Workforce Monthly
Content related to business engagement in education and workforce development, includes resources created by the U.S. Chamber Foundation.
Community College Daily or Weekly
Content related to issues and legislation that affect community colleges, includes resources curated from the web and articles written for the American Association of Community Colleges.
Education Dive Daily
Content related to trends and advancements in either the K-12 or higher education industries, includes headlines curated from around the web.
Content related to research on the U.S. education system, includes original data and research reports from Gallup.
InsideTrack Innovation Bulletin Weekly
Content related to innovation in higher education, includes headlines curated from around the web
Lumina Higher Ed News Daily
Content related to higher education attainment, includes news curated from around the web and resources created by Lumina Foundation.
Equity & Youth
America’s Promise Alliance Weekly
Content related to issues affecting the successful education path of young people, includes resources curated from around the web and a list of funding opportunities.
Content related to economic and workforce policies that affect low income people, includes analysis and resources from the Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP).
Philanthropy and Fundraising
Inside Philanthropy Daily
Content related to fundraising strategies, includes insights into funder mindsets and fundraising tips.
Philanthropy News Digest RFP Alerts Daily
A daily roundup of recently announced requests for proposals from private, corporate, and government funding sources / Note: Creating an account allows you to filter your RFP preferences.
Philanthropy News Digest RFP Bulletin Weekly
A weekly roundup of recently announced requests for proposals from private, corporate, and government funding sources
Five-minute (or less) video series on important developments in education policy from the Alliance for Excellent Education.
Pew State Line Daily or Weekly
Content related to trends in state policy, includes news curated from around the web and policy analysis by The Pew Charitable Trusts.
Content related to workforce and workplace trends and practices, includes analysis and news from the Society of Human Resources Management (SHRM).
Do you know of any e-newsletters to add? Email firstname.lastname@example.org with your suggestion and it will be added to this list.
Three health and wellness strategies your education and workforce agenda may be missing
As education and workforce development (EDWD) organizations are wrapping up annual strategic planning processes for 2016, many are still looking back on their plans wondering what is missing. Seasoned EDWD professionals know all too well that there is no silver bullet when it comes to improving education attainment and developing a talented and competitive workforce, and that various factors affect the talent pipeline; yet, the question of what will most significantly accelerate their organization’s annual goals will hover over their minds throughout the year.
So what could be missing—even from best practice models like cradle-to-career collective impact initiatives, which build cross-sectors partnerships to improve student outcomes? Chances are that what is missing is a comprehensive and well-balanced health and wellness agenda. At ACCE, we see a growing number of chambers of commerce that are championing health and wellness initiatives in their community, understanding that efforts to improve the talent pipeline work hand in hand with improving health.
What’s the connection?
You may be wondering just how critical a health and wellness action plan is to improving education attainment and workforce outcomes, and the correlation between the two is stronger than most of us realize. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that losses in productivity due to worker illness and injury costs U.S. Employers $225.8 billion annually, equal to $1,685 per employee, enough to significantly impact a business’s bottom line. One study, conducted by the nonprofit Health Enhancement Research Organization, even suggests that best-practice workplace wellness practices are linked to better corporate performance (read more at SHRM.org). These findings help us to understand how deeply health affects our workforce.
What is also interesting is that, on the flip side, EDWD significantly impacts health outcomes. The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation created an excellent Better Education = Healthier Lives infographic, which demonstrates how an individual’s health is greatly shaped by their socioeconomic factors, such as education and income. It states that “Each additional year of schooling represents an 11% increase income. High earnings increase access to healthier food and safer homes, and can even lower uncertainty and stress.”
Recognizing that you cannot advance one agenda without the other, ACCE has identified the following three opportunities for chambers of commerce to incorporate health and wellness strategies into their EDWD efforts.
- Ensuring Children Are Ready to Learn: Chambers of commerce are uniquely poised to work with key education stakeholders and community service providers to ensure that young children receive the quality education and wellness care they need to be healthy and ready to learn by the time they reach kindergarten. By focusing on a community’s youngest residents, a chamber can not only ensure children are set on a positive trajectory to succeed in school and career, but also instill effective wellness habits that will shape their future health—and as an added bonus, help develop a talented and productive workforce capable of competing in the 21st century global market.
- Promoting Workplace Wellness: With direct access to the business community, chambers of commerce can provide employers with the support and guidance needed to implement innovative and effective programs and workplace policies that encourage employees to adopt healthier lifestyles. The benefits of workplace wellness programs far outweigh their cost, and more and more employers are finding that, in addition to helping employees adopt healthy work-life habits, these programs produce more productive employees, help attract and retain talent, build staff morale, combat employee absenteeism, minimize staff turnover and reduce healthcare costs for employers.
- Building a Healthy Community Culture: Chambers of commerce already champion opportunities to raise the quality of life for their residents, knowing their members will prosper as a result. These organizations—which typically represent diverse sectors of the community, including business, non-profit, education, and health and government entities—can offer opportunities for their members to participant in events and/or councils that are focused on improving community health. Strong community health can be the tipping point towards economic vitality and equitable prosperity, fulfilling a chamber’s vision for its community.
Where to start?
For ACCE members looking to develop or expand an education and workforce development agenda that is inclusive of health and wellness, ACCE’s Education Attainment Division has pulled together excellent examples of chamber-led health and wellness initiatives and created a series of communication briefs, which are available on the division’s Workforce Wellness and Community Health Chamberpedia page. The division will be also be providing on-going technical assistance throughout the year and developing additional resources with an expanded online library of health and wellness resources to come this spring, as well as in-person support and education-and-workforce-development-related sessions at ACCE’s 2016 Annual Convention August 9-12 in Savannah, GA.
To learn more about these resources or to share how your organization is championing health and wellness, please contact Analidia Blakely, Education Attainment Division Manager, via email at email@example.com.
Developing Talent in Sarasota
As a pillar of the Greater Sarasota Chamber of Commerce’s Sarasota Tomorrow Economic Development Initiative, the Talent4Tomorrow Partnership is using a collective impact strategy to secure 30,000 new degrees by 2020. The Partnership is creating a comprehensive career pathways system, at both the high school and post-secondary level, which enhances area students’ opportunities for career exploration, skills development and placement in high-demand, high-wage careers. As a new Partnership, Talent4Tomorrow is focused on building operational support, research, data, communication efforts and incorporating assessments.
Interview Participant: Steve Queior, CCE, President & CEO, Greater Sarasota Chamber of Commerce
Q: How did your community begin to focus on Education Attainment and Workforce Development?
Throughout the recession, our region experienced several rounds of painful job cuts, yet we saw employers struggling to fill open jobs due to a lack of talent. We started to feel the pain of this skills gap in our community and began to look at what chambers in other communities around the country were doing to address their workforce issues. Over a period of two years, our Chamber connected with national groups like the Association of Chamber of Commerce Executives, and learned how communities were rallying together through strategic coalitions. We knew we needed to do the same in the Greater Sarasota Area.
Q: What were the most important factors that helped spur the chamber’s efforts to strategically address local workforce issues?
The most important factors involved having the right people at the table. In addition to private sector employers, our Chamber’s board consists of the school superintendent, leaders from both city and county government, and four college presidents. During our board meetings and retreats, we have the necessary stakeholders listening to employers saying ‘hey, I read about the high unemployment rate; yet I can’t get a precision machinist at my specialty manufacturing facility;’ or ‘I can’t find skilled healthcare workers or construction workers.’ We were able to aggregate these conversations to find that it came down to four industry classifications that were the most in-need of workers. From there, we focused on a dual strategy to re-train unemployed individuals while also developing a long-term career awareness and career pathways strategy for our young people. The next factor was key community organizations- such as the community foundation and Career Edge, a group specializing in adult training and retraining- stepping up to provide funding and operational support.
Q: What are other efforts related to education and workforce development that your chamber leads?
There are four chamber-led boots-on-the-ground efforts:
Internship Database: A portal on the chamber’s website provides a space for employers to post searchable available internship opportunities for students; then we facilitate matches between the two. With support from ACCE’s Lumina Award for Education Attainment, we plan to reengineer this portal to include resources such as a “how to” workshop for employers who have not traditionally utilized interns; and a database with information on internship providers and success rates (i.e. how many of the students who get an internship go onto the next step in their schooling, what impact these internships have on graduation rates and what students go on to do in their careers).
Career Exploration: After eight months of research leading up to the launch of Talent4Tomorrow, we realized a major weakness in our community was that students lacked awareness about potential careers and how to prepare for those careers. Our partners are working on piloting a 6-week “Summer Bridge” program with Road Trip Nation, a group that creates innovative career exploration experiences and resources. Through the program, students receive scholarships covering tuition, books, etc. and complete up to six college credits by taking two courses- including “Student Life Skills,” which is a project-based curriculum developed by Road Trip Nation.
The Chamber is launching a Young Entrepreneurs Academy (YEA!) for the Central West Coast of Florida in Fall 2015. During the twenty-one week program, middle and high school students will go on company tours, build a business plan, and launch a legally operating business. Business professionals will serve as mentors and speakers. The program has had great success in other cities, and statistics show that students that go through the YEA program progress in school, earn degrees and pursue productive careers.
Addressing the Skills Gaps: After a labor survey conducted last year revealed a critical skills gap, a coalition of community stakeholders created a curriculum called Precision Machining. The Sarasota County Technical Institute provided the space; local counties donated a third of a million dollars for equipment; and local companies lined up to hire individuals who finished the course. Our manufacturing action team is currently working to bring the Manufacturing Skills Standards Certification into area high schools and has developed a community-wide career awareness campaign for high-demand careers in this industry.
Q: Best practices or lessons-learned to share with other chambers working on education reform?
The Chamber conducted an asset map to assess education needs in our community and get a sense of which organization was doing what. We found that efforts related to early childhood education, as well as those addressing adult workforce training and re-training, were strong. But efforts to ensure middle and high school students were on a path to college needed to be strengthened. Right now the average age that a young person returns to college after entering the workforce directly after high school is 28. This information gave our chamber a focus moving forward.
**More lessons and insights from the 2014-15 ACCE Lumina Award Winners will be available in the upcoming Fall edition of ACCE's Chamber Executive Magazine.
Creating an Information Systems and Technology Education Pipeline
The Greater Omaha Chamber is committed to implementing cradle-to-career strategies that strengthen the talent development pipeline for the region’s highest-need industry sectors. Working with key partners from K-12 and higher education institutions, and their Workforce Investment Board, the Chamber is identifying opportunities to build strong curriculum and programs that support their IT sector, and promote available IT-related education and career opportunities.
Interview Participants: Sarah Moylan, Director, Talent and Workforce
Q: Can you provide some background on how your community began to focus on education attainment and workforce development?
A: The story begins about 5 years ago when the Greater Omaha Chamber received a grant from National Fund for Workforce Solutions. During that time, the state controlled the Workforce Investment Board (WIB), and a lot of decisions weren’t being made from a local perspective. We really wanted to get back to a place where we were directly dealing with the challenges and opportunities that existed in the community. Support from the National Fund enabled us to leverage technical expertise, build capacity within our staff and community partners, and learn from best practices and models other states had utilized in working with their WIBs. Over the next few years, the Chamber worked directly with community partners to create a new non-profit organization outside of the Chamber called Heartland Workforce Solutions. Because of the structure and sustainable system plan put in place through this organization, it eventually regained control of the WIB from the state. From there, we built the American Job Center, a new workforce center serving the region under the banner of Heartland Workforce Solutions. The center houses 15 workforce system partner organizations that provide training and education services. Having these partners and agencies under one roof really streamlines efforts and improves collaboration and communication.
Q: Today, what would you say that your chamber’s most important role is within this body of work?
A: Our main focus is to grow the economy in the Greater Omaha region to help bring prosperity to the people living in our area. To do this strategically, the Chamber has been a leader in convening stakeholders around jobs, labor, and workforce data. Data has been one of the biggest factors driving the decisions and actions of both the Chamber and Heartland Workforce Solutions. We lead with data, and in regards to educational attainment, use data as a platform to help people understand their role in driving change and improving outcomes.
The role we play as a convener brings groups to the table that would benefit from working together to help build a better education system. Within education there are also lot of partners, such as direct service providers, working with students or adults outside of traditional institutions. Our role has been to solidify a system that’s working together—bringing philanthropy, education, government and private business to the table—to help strengthen the education pipeline.
Q: Can you tell me about your chamber's overall education and workforce development portfolio of work?
A; The chamber is leading a three-pronged strategy to build a cohesive cradle-to-career system, ensuring systems and partners are in alignment from preschool to workforce development.
The first leg of the strategy uses data to realign talent development along the P-16 pipeline in alignment with workforce needs. We convene partners to provide data on where the jobs are and what skills they require, and then work on how to realign programs, such as those focused on Information Technology and STEM, to meet those industry needs. An analysis we conducted of workforce needs for our region showed that our talent supply was not meeting industry demand, specifically in areas of IT and engineering. We had a huge demand for that type of talent, but our post-secondary completion rates in those fields were falling way behind the curve. For example, last year we surveyed 156 companies that are looking to hire over 1400 IT professionals over the next 2 years; and the number of students graduating college with those skills is nowhere near that number. The issue wasn’t that students weren’t graduating, but it was that not enough students were getting into the programs that match workforce needs. Therefore, we looked deeply into the kind of career awareness and exposure students get at a very young age that could lead them into post-secondary STEM focused programs, such as IT.
The second leg of our strategy is to grow and retain talent through career awareness programs and marketing strategies focused on engaging individuals at a young age. The ACCE Lumina Education Attainment Award is helping us expand a career awareness campaign that exposes youth to IT and other STEM careers. Marketing and promotion taking place within the schools helps shift student perceptions about IT careers and directs them to outside opportunities to work alongside IT professionals—such as camps, internships and mentorships. We also host Teacher Internships to build career awareness among students. Forty educators work with twenty participating employers over the course of a week to learn about STEM and IT careers and the kinds of skills needed to land those jobs. (See program video here.) Participating teachers are paid for their time and are required to submit new lesson plans that incorporates what they learned from their internship into their curriculum.
The third leg of our strategy is to take on an advocacy and public policy role that drives decision-making at the local level. We were at the table advocating for new leadership within our public school system by: 1) recruiting candidates from the community to run for school board positions; and 2) serving on the selection committee for the public school superintendent. We also recently completed a bond proposal for supporting public schools, which our chamber’s board supported and helped pass locally.
Q: What best practices and/or lessons learned can you share with other chamber professionals working on education reform?
A: Having data to drive your strategies and decisions is huge. It changed the way in which we operated and gave us information that everyone could convene around, understand and utilize. Then, it’s important to understand that the power of convening partners around a common issue and finding opportunities to collaborate is far more beneficial and influential than one could possibly realize. Also, quality relationships take time to build and they require maintenance, but they’re huge for our work! Making relationships a focus of your work and being that convener that brings people together is crucial. Lastly, it’s important to respect different perspectives and what everyone brings to the table. Often when trying to influence or advance an education and workforce development issue, stakeholders will have different experiences that represent all sides and shapes of an issue. Many of us are not educators, yet we’re trying to influence what happens in education, so respect is essential when working collaboratively.