When local businesses and industries were asked recently what they saw as their greatest concern about the future, economic growth and financial stability were, perhaps surprisingly, not at the top of their list. What was? People.
“We do these surveys annually, and the majority of those we surveyed said that their biggest worry for the future was workforce and continuing to find the talent they need,” says Emily Russ, business engagement specialist for the Marion Economic Development Corp (MEDCO).
Thinking proactively, MEDCO began evolving a plan to capitalize upon and expand current partnerships between the business community and Marion’s educational institutions. And in mid-2017, it instituted an innovative classroom-to-work plan that will involve Marion students in two school districts from middle school through high school graduation and beyond.
The Promise of a Future
Community Promise Initiative exposes students and their families to a world of job opportunities in their own community, meaningful work that they may prepare for, from initial exposure in the classroom and online to internships to actual job training and placement. Russ says local businesses are already enthusiastic about the program, which will tailor talent for the jobs they’ll need to fill a few years down the road.
“We want to help kids adapt to the changing work environment,” says Tom Kettmann, high school counselor with the Marion Independent School District. “The more exposure you can provide, the better. Our main goal is two-fold: we get an opportunity from the high school perspective to get great enrichment opportunities for our kids and, two, we get to do this within the Marion community and businesses – it’s a win-win for everybody. “
On the Right Career Pathways
The initiative revolves around three factors: exposure, experience and pursuit. Exposure begins in middle school, through career fairs, guest speaker events, career clubs, etc. Materials describing job openings in the community, and their relevant details, are distributed regularly to families.
As students move through high school, experience becomes key, through field trips, job shadowing, guest speakers, and workforce events focused on tomorrow’s economic realities. They will also be introduced to MEDCO’s invaluable jobs profile database, where they can explore detailed descriptions of current and upcoming job opportunities in Marion.
In their sophomore and junior years, as part of individually crafted plans, students may apply for accelerated training opportunities, and in their senior year may be paired with a local business partner for training and possible post-graduation hiring. Investment from businesses, students and MEDCO, via pursuit grants, may defray the cost of special training, apprenticeships and certifications needed.
“We’re really pumped about this,” Kettmann says. “Our job is to show our students what a career track might look like, from middle school to senior year, when they can get the real life skills that could lead to a good job. It’s what many of our kids are looking for -- they’re excited.”