Public schools, higher education institutions, business build a pipeline for skilled workers.
In Great Falls, a close relationship between the public schools, colleges and private sector is creating career opportunities for high school and college students while stocking a talent pool that gives business the confidence to invest in the region.
With enrollment of more than 10,000 students, the school district is the second-largest in Montana. In addition to their classroom work, students can participate in activities that give them hands-on workplace experience or credit toward a college degree while still in high school.
Students interested in learning a building trade, for example, can participate in the High School House project and build a house for NeighborWorks, an affordable housing organization.
Over the years, students have built 42 houses. This year, 26 young people are participating in the construction of a three bedroom, two-bath home. The project is part of the district’s career and technical education program, says Becky Nelson, the community connections coordinator for Great Falls Public Schools.
Partnerships with the area’s universities and colleges have saved students hundreds of thousands of dollars in tuition costs by allowing them to earn credit toward a degree before they graduate from high school. Those programs also prepare young people to enter the workforce right out of high school.
“It’s a fantastic opportunity. Many of our students graduate with a two-year college certificate,â€ says Tom Moore, superintendent of Great Falls Public Schools.
Preparing for Leadership
At the University of Providence, a private institution in Great Falls, students are prepared for leadership in the health care professions through a partnership with Providence St. Joseph Health that offers students a direct connection to the health care industry.
In addition, the McLaughlin Research Institute (MRI) in Great Falls will provide teaching lab space for new health education programs through the University of Providence. The two institutions will collaborate to develop new grants and initiatives for research and STEM education.
A key element in the region’s workforce preparedness efforts is Great Falls College-Montana State University, a two-year school that works closely with industry partners to identify the needs of the workforce and support employers with a highly skilled and educated workforce.
“We respond to needs in the community (with) customized training as well as our adaptation of degree offerings based on employment needs. Additionally, we are the place for students to start as they work on general education requirements that will provide a seamless transfer to other colleges for completion of a bachelor’s degree,â€ says Shannon Marr, director of recruitment and enrollment at Great Falls College-Montana State University.
Creating Career Paths
The college partners with more than 60 high schools to offer college classes. One example of dual enrollment course work is the welding program, which enables high school seniors to earn a certificate while still in high school. The college is developing a similar offering for students interested in cybersecurity and computer programming.
“We have an extremely progressive and creative partnership with the Career and College Readiness Center (CCRC) (formerly Adult Education) to serve students who are not quite college ready but need some developmental work as well as career exploration,â€ Marr says. “The CCRC will provide the front-end support to ensure students are pursuing a path to either college, apprenticeship or the workforce.”