Students, business leaders, teachers, and administrators spent the morning of September 12 at Calera High School collaborating on strategies to better prepare students for the workforce. The event was the first in a series of Education Connection Roundtables sponsored by the Shelby County Career and Technical Education Department and the Greater Shelby County Chamber of Commerce that will be held from September to January at high schools across the district.
Industry leaders in various fields joined students representing various Career Technical classes and organizations to discuss ways to better prepare students for the workforce. These included steps to strengthen essential skills, partnerships between schools and industry, and job shadowing, internship and apprenticeship opportunities for students. The specific roundtable discussions, which were facilitated by members of the Career Technical Education Department, were on employability, career opportunities, partnerships, and career development.
This was the third year for the event partnership with the Chamber of Commerce, but it was the first year for the roundtable discussion format, said Julie Godfrey, Supervisor of Career Technical Education, College and Career Planning and Community Partnerships.
“The first year we did teacher presentations,” Godfrey explained. “The second year we did student presentations, which everyone loved. But, we didn’t want to keep doing the same thing each year. We wanted to keep attracting new business and industry partners to attend and also keep the ones that have been supporting us in previous years so we changed to this roundtable format for this year.”
One of the main things that business leaders shared with the students was the importance of essential soft skills, such as showing up for work, being on time, and taking a sincere interest in learning everything about the job.
“We are looking for people that show an interest in what is going on and want to learn the job,” said Tom Hayes with Carmeuse in Alabaster. “We are looking for people who want to develop and grow in the job. We will work with them to build the skills they need for the various jobs.”
Hayes also stressed that all the jobs are important and there are opportunities for advancement and scholarships for college for those employees who start out at an entry-level, hourly job. Some of his co-workers who are now engineers started for the company hourly employees doing other jobs.
“All work is important,” Hayes told the students. “The work the hourly guys do is critically important or the job wouldn’t exist.”
Godfrey said one of her personal missions in her job role is to expose students to industry and the various opportunities that are out there.
“I think we have to do everything we can to prepare these students for the jobs that are in our community and in our state,” Godfrey said. “The only way to truly do that is to community with business leaders about what jobs they have available and what skills they need from future employees.”
Another takeaway from industry leaders to the students was not to be to limit their job search to careers in the particular fields traditionally know for certain types of jobs. Cristine Furguson, with Shelby Baptist Medical Center, shared with students there are over 100 different types of jobs in the healthcare industry.
That made a huge impact on Calera senior Katie Scott Troy, who said she got a totally new perspective on different employment opportunities that might be available one day.
“I learned that in various jobs, like health care, there are a lot of different employment opportunities. You don’t necessarily have to be a nurse or a doctor, you could work in HR (Human Relations), PR (Public Relations), or accounting,” she said.
That was a thought shared by Paige Grammer, a sophomore who wants to work in the field of zoology one day but now realizes that there might be other jobs still within the field of zoology that might interest her.
Both Troy and Grammer said the importance of soft skills for success in the workforce was another message not lost on them.
“All of our teachers have harped on us the importance of soft skills, but it really stuck with me how many times we heard that from employers today,” said Troy.
“I learned about the importance of soft skills, regardless of what the job is,” said Grammer.