An overview of the Connecting Communities, Schools and Businesses Forum prepared by Michele Armani, Director of Special Projects, North Country Workforce Investment Board
The 2nd Connecting Communities, Schools, and Businesses Forum was held on March 27, 2012 at the Crowne Plaza in Lake Placid. The Forum was designed to bring the business and education communities together to discuss education and economic development in the North Country. Participants were tasked with the challenge of developing creative solutions to best prepare the workforce to face the needs of the 21st Century marketplace.
Over one hundred people (134!) representing Clinton, Franklin, Essex, and Hamilton counties attended a day full of sharing, talking, and action planning. Missing from the 1st Forum, but very much a strong presence at the 2nd, were high schools students. Eight school districts were represented and the students let their collective voice be heard. Many students participated on a panel led by Upward Bound Executive Director, Elaine Leavitt. The panelists shared their thoughts and opinions on the current state of education, employer expectations, and their own expectations of future educational and career planning.
Students were also invited to participate in an anonymous survey about education and employment. 625 students responded to questions ranging from “What skills, talents, and abilities are most valued by employers?” to “What can schools do to better prepare students for higher education and employment?” Students believed that personal hygiene and grooming were the most important qualities employers sought while critical thinking skills came in a close second. Students overwhelmingly stated the best way for schools to prepare the future workforce is to offer hands-on learning opportunities in real world settings: job shadowing, internships, and project based learning were popular topics of discussion throughout the day.
Educators, businesses leaders, and students were also asked to contemplate valuable partnerships between the three stakeholder groups; not surprisingly, students in local schools overwhelmingly chose college scholarships as the most valuable partnership between schools and business to enhance their education. This begs the question, “Are students too focused on the money?”
Tuition and fees rose over 8% in 2011 in US public colleges, which account for 80% of all American undergraduates. Taking into consideration the drop in family earnings across all income levels, it’s a hefty price to pay to obtain the qualifications employers require; by carefully selecting scholarship awards, local businesses might be able to lend a hand in preparing future skilled employees and while making a real investment in a well prepared, well skilled workforce.
The Connecting Communities, Schools, and Businesses Forum was sponsored by The Development Corporation and the North Country Workforce Investment Board.