Career Readiness Initiatives Having an Impact in North Carolina
Lenovo employees worked with students during Students@Work Week 2016.
Photo courtesy of Lenovo
When Raleigh eighth-grader Alex Bender gushes, “They showed us what they do at their jobs and how it all works, and how they plan out roads and maps and stuff — and I just thought it was really cool,” he isn’t describing a fantastic summer camp. He’s describing what he and his classmates at the Wake Young Men’s Leadership Academy learned last year when the North Carolina Department of Transportation visited their school. This experience helped him realize that being a civil engineer and designing roads was an actual job and “might be something that I want to do.”
Alex’s excitement exemplifies why NCDOT and hundreds of businesses and schools throughout the state take part in the North Carolina Business Committee for Education’s Students@Work program every year. NCBCE is a nonprofit housed in the Office of the Governor that is made up of businesses that support workforce development in North Carolina. NCBCE Board of Directors Chairman and Deputy General Counsel for Duke Energy Bo Somers says the collaboration between businesses and schools is needed because many employers are seeing a gap between the skills they need their employees to have and the skills their employees actually possess.
Students@Work and its cousin program, Teachers@Work, are career readiness initiatives sponsored by NCBCE in partnership with the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction that are helping to address this gap by connecting businesses throughout the state to their future employees and the teachers who influence those students in the classroom.
“Many students and teachers in the school setting know what it takes to succeed academically,” Somers says, “but they don’t always have a true line of sight into how that academic learning translates into a career.”
Students@Work focuses on exposing primarily middle school students to what Somers calls “the real-world of work” through job shadowing programs or in-school visits.
“The goal of the program is to expose students to the many varied careers that are available in North Carolina businesses and the skills and education requirements that are necessary in order to be successful,” Somers says.
While Students@Work programs can be implemented any time during the school year, the designated Students@Work Week for 2017 is March 22-30. Andrew Warren was an eighth-grader last spring at Belmont Middle School in Gaston County when he and his classmates participated in a PSNC Energy job shadowing experience. “We got to hear speakers and see demonstrations and pump natural gas into cars and see the fire pit and all this different stuff,” he says. Most importantly to PSNC, Andrew says the experience “got me thinking about engineering and management.”
PSNC Energy Public Affairs Specialist Persida Montanez says this is precisely what her company wants to hear. “It’s a great opportunity to take students behind the scenes and expose them to career options they may not have known about or considered before,” she says.
Lenovo participates in the program by bringing students from Wake, Durham, Orange and Guilford counties to its Morrisville campus. Students learn about the company, tour labs, ask engineers questions and then, in partnership with the Kramden Institute, refurbish computers that are later given to students who don’t have a computer at home.
“They learn about all the different parts of the computer, replace hard drives, screw the tops back on, and get them cleaned up and in great condition to give to other individuals,” says Lenovo Community Engagement Manager Suzie Koonce. “While all this is happening, each student and a Lenovo employee are having informal conversations about career paths, and it’s very much like mini-mentoring sessions.”
Teachers@Work addresses the other end of the educational spectrum by inviting teachers to businesses across the state for a week during the summer. The teachers are asked to develop a lesson plan based on their experiences that incorporates hard and soft skills being used in the workplace.
At least two teachers from each of the state’s eight education regions will participate in the 2017 Teachers@Work program, bringing the total to at least 45 teachers and 30 businesses participating throughout the state. The lesson plans developed as a result of Teachers@Work are uploaded to NCDPI’s Schoolnet system so they can be shared with teachers across the state to extend the program’s impact.
Rob Leichner, a secondary math professional development curriculum specialist for Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, taught math at West Mecklenburg High School when he partnered with architectural and engineering firm LaBella Associates as part of Teachers@Work.. He says one of his favorite experiences involved seeing how math is used in the workplace — something he could go back and share with his students to answer the age-old question, “When am I going to use this?”
Leichner says of the LaBella Associates employees he got to work with for the week, “Every single one of them had a graphing calculator on their desk, and you could see the formulas they were using, and you could see how they applied them. They really do use math every day.”
Orange High School career and technical education teacher Kentellia Wingate partnered with technology nonprofit MCNC in Durham. She believes Teachers@Work is especially beneficial for those who have taught their entire career because it “allows them to get a firsthand view of another workplace environment,” she says, which offers knowledge teachers can then transfer to their students.
MCNC President and CEO Jean Davis says these far-reaching impacts are why her company participates in Students@Work and Teachers@Work. “The more we can start early, helping kids understand the modern workplace and the fantastic opportunities that exist here, the better off our business and our economy and our society will be,” she says.
Learn more about Students@Work and Teachers@work at ncbce.org.
Robyn Kinsey Mooring is a Durham-based writer and the mother of two boys.