Area schools and businesses work together to prepare students for the workforce.
Access to a large pool of highly skilled talent is one of Robertson County’s greatest business advantages and economic drivers. To ensure this asset remains in the future, the community introduces students to career pathways early on through career and technical education (CTE) programs, and local schools partner with the region’s business community to build workforce development pipelines designed to fill in-demand jobs.
Robertson County Schools, for example, uses a Comprehensive Local Needs Assessment to study the workforce needs of the region and then aligns its programs to those needs. The school district offers 20 industry credentials in CTE programs, including BASF Plant Science, Certified Nursing Assistant, Microsoft Office and Southwest Airlines Professional Communications certifications.
“These credentials are nationally recognized, and (they) will provide a head start to students entering the workforce and are a great addition to a college student’s portfolio,” says Mark Gregory, supervisor of CTE for Robertson County Schools. “A college student who is also certified in Microsoft Office products, for example, would be a step ahead of his/her peers in preparing reports and doing presentations.”
The school system also works with business and economic development agencies to understand the skills needs of local industries and career paths. Each year, the Robertson County Chamber of Commerce sponsors a job shadowing day for high school juniors, during which they are assigned to businesses that reflect the career they want to explore. They then spend the day shadowing leaders in that field.
Plus, the school system hosts an annual job fair for students ready to enter the workforce, and it co-hosts an annual career fair with the chamber and Robertson County Economic Development Board.
“Over the past couple of years, we have been using the YouScience aptitude and interest survey,” Gregory says. “We give the assessment in eighth grade to help students identify a career path that fits their interests and matches their aptitude. Students get these results prior to our annual career fair and then visit with industry leaders from the areas that the survey identified for them to consider.”
Gregory further notes that this has opened students’ eyes to career opportunities they otherwise would not know exist.
Collaboration is key in workforce development, and the award of the state’s GIVE (Governors Investment in Vocational Education) 2.0 grant is a prime example. A partnership between the Tennessee College of Applied Technology (TCAT) Nashville, Robertson County Economic Development Board and Robertson County Schools, the grant will bring advanced manufacturing, computer information technology and administrative office tech programs to the Springfield TCAT campus.
In addition to students, the chamber, economic development board and school system partner to introduce educators to local, in-demand jobs. In 2021, the group hosted an Industry Intro professional development workshop and tour for CTE educators and school guidance counselors.
“Some of our teachers felt they weren’t aware of half the industries out there in our county,” says Will Elliott, CTE early post-secondary opportunity coordinator for Robertson County Schools.
“The teachers took in a lot of information that day. They were able to learn about what’s going on in the industry, what skills their students will need, what job openings are out there, what the future markets look like and what businesses are going to be expecting from students. Then they can take that information back to their classrooms. It was probably one of the better professional development days we’ve had for our career and technical education teachers.”
Running Full STEAM Ahead
Also preparing students for their future careers is the Innovation Academy, a STEAM magnet school for students in grades six through nine that introduces them to technology-based careers through weekly TED Talk-type presentations.
“As we transition to a six through 12 (grade) magnet program, we now have freshmen in the building. With our freshman class, we started having speakers from different industries come in every Friday to talk about their jobs and the importance of education. They just kind of tell their own story and then open it up for questions from the students,” says Dr. Grant Bell, principal of the Innovation Academy. “I see our role as preparing our future leaders of the community with a very rigorous academic education as well as the soft skills businesses need.”