Education Attainment Division
Small Chamber Big Ideas
In northwest Iowa, there is a small town named Sioux Center with a population of 7,500. It boasts a small private university and a hospital, as well as several sectors of business, including genetics, agriculture, construction, and major employers like Pella Corporation and Smithfield. Like many chambers across the country, the Sioux Center Chamber heard complaints from member businesses about not being able to expand. Businesses couldn’t grow because there wasn’t anyone to hire; they needed new talent, and talent that stays. Businesses charged the Sioux Center Chamber, led by Barbara DenHerder, to help.
To address the issue of talent attraction, the chamber implemented the Homecoming Grant in 2017. This $6,000 grant pays off student loans for students who graduated from the local high school. The amount is paid over four years, and graduates must hold a job in Sioux Center. The grant is framed as a reverse scholarship that is given at the conclusion at the student’s education, instead of at the beginning. Twenty people have applied to date, and two people have been awarded the grant. The chamber is working to raise awareness about the program with the goal of continuing to encourage students to look for and get jobs in their hometown.
To address talent retention, the chamber started Leadership Sioux Center in 2015. Like many other leadership programs, 20 young professionals participate in the eight-month cohort program with a session once a month. This has created a talent pool of younger leaders who are the first to receive notifications for board openings, volunteer opportunities and local civic positions. Of the 100 people who have completed the program, only two have left Sioux Center, making it a very effective tool for talent retention.
To help expose students to the many career opportunities in Sioux Center, the chamber started Your Future@Work. The event begins with a keynote, followed by interactive breakout sessions and a business expo with 65 businesses. For the breakout sessions and the business expo, the chamber works with businesses to focus on the skills needed for working in that industry, rather than the benefits of working for that specific company. For example, a manufacturing company might do an activity with robotics to show students the types of skills they need to get a job in the sector. The event has grown and is now mandatory for the 500-600 high school sophomores in Sioux county. The chamber continues to work with the school district to maintain consistent post-event messaging.
With a staff of three, Barbara DenHerder has responded quickly to member needs. The strength of their chamber is largely due to the tremendous support of the businesses and their willingness to partner with the Chamber in many ways. With an entrepreneurial approach to closing the talent gap, the Sioux City Chamber continues to push for bigger and bolder solutions for its community.
Are you implementing some of the same programs as the Sioux Center Chamber? Do you have an innovative strategy or program that addresses significant issues? Please email Emily Counts (email@example.com) to share.
The New Strategy for Afterschool
Over the past few years, chambers have increasingly focused on using afterschool as a strategy for career awareness and to decrease the skills gap in their communities. Afterschool has traditionally been used as time to do homework before parents get out of work, but it can be so much more. Afterschool can be the time when students are exposed to career opportunities, learn in demand skills and apply what they learned in the classroom to real life scenarios.
Chambers that have seen the potential of afterschool as a talent strategy are capitalizing on their investment in the workforce of tomorrow. Greater Spokane Inc, is taking advantage of afterschool opportunities to raise awareness of STEM possibilities and continue education past the bell. Check out the webinar featuring the Greater Spokane Inc’s work here. The Casper Area Chamber offers afterschool programming to improve students’ soft skills. Whether your chamber provides direct programming or supports other existing programs, there are many helpful resources at your disposal.
If you are considering your next steps for developing deeper partnership in the afterschool space, you may find ACCE’s afterschool partnership model helpful. This model illustrates how chambers can evolve a new partnership into a mature, effective collaboration. You can find other helpful resources on the Afterschool STEM Chamberpedia page.
Linda Barton of the Wyoming Afterschool Alliance, Erin Helms of the Casper Area Chamber, and Elissa Ruckle of Elevate Wyoming presented a webinar titled How Afterschool Can Shape Your STEM Workforce. This webinar also included perspectives from aftershool experts Ron Ottinger from the STEM Next Opportunity Fund and Kari Pardoe of the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation.
Do you use afterschool as part of your career awareness and closing the skill gap strategy? We would love to hear from you. Email Amy Shields (firstname.lastname@example.org) to let us know what you are doing.
Creating a Workforce Readiness Institute for Educators
This post was authored by Stephanie Newland, Vice President, Workforce Readiness, Shoals Chamber of Commerce.
Students ask, “Why do I need to know this?” and “When will I ever use this again?” Do educators really know? They may know about doctors, nurses, lawyers, engineers and teachers, but what about machinists, CNC operators, multi-craft maintenance and so many other technical professionals who have high-demand, high-skill, high-paying careers? Would they know to advise their students to consider these jobs? Most likely not. Hence, our nation’s current skills gap!
We never discourage anyone from getting as much education as they desire or need to reach their goals, but we have found that many students do not know enough about technical careers to choose them as a goal. We want students to marry their interests and passions with available career opportunities and get as much training and skills in those areas as they can. We encourage all students (directly and through their teachers) to gain a marketable skill and preferably to earn certification(s) in high school.
We believe students should learn how to do something that employers will value and which will benefit their ultimate educational and career goals. If they are not financially able or choose not to go directly to college, they can still make a living. Then, maybe their employer will pay for their continued education. If not, they can still save for school, or work through school and have less, or possibly no, student loan debt. It is simply a win-win to have a marketable skill no matter what you plan to do after high school.
Since 2008, the Shoals Chamber of Commerce has hosted a summer program now called Workforce Readiness Institute for Educators. During this program, 25 – 30 regional educators (classroom teachers, counselor, administrators, youth workers, etc.) spend seven days touring local industry and the technical programs at Northwest-Shoals Community College, learning how the academics they teach in the classroom tie into jobs in business and industry.
Our target audience is middle and high school math and science teachers and counselors, but if we have space, we accept any interested educators. At the conclusion, they write career-related lesson plans, so students better understand the “why” and “when” of what they are learning. We then provide links to the lesson plans from our chamber’s Education/Workforce webpage and invite other educators to use them, which increases the ROI for the program. Those not on contract during the summer are paid a modest stipend ($75/day), which is funded by grants, sponsorships and donations. Participants are also eligible to receive professional development credit, both CEUs / Contact Hours for classroom teachers and a state-approved PLU for administrators.
Businesses who participate love sharing their workforce needs and challenges with the educators. Educators are amazed at all the businesses they never realized were even in the area, on “that street” they had never ventured down, as well as the great career opportunities for so many of their students who may not be interested in a 4-year degree … at least not yet. They learn how their math, science and English concepts are used daily within these businesses. They also see how important soft skills are, such as taking responsibility and pride in your work, being on time, critical thinking, teamwork and respecting others. They usually rank the WRI among the best, most relevant professional development opportunities they have ever encountered.
We are encouraging those at the state level to implement this type of program at colleges of education so student teachers will have a better understanding of the end result of the academics and skills they teach before they ever enter the classroom. An educator's goal should not only be to get students from Math A to Math B, but to make sure their students have a working understanding of how Math A can be used someday in various careers and why it is important that they can use it in the real world.