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Opinion: Building workforce one partnership at a time

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Gone are the days of separation between education and industry.

Local school districts have rebuilt technical education programs to showcase career opportunities. Many districts have also developed industry advisory groups with high schools to ensure students graduate with the skills needed for real-world careers. Industry leaders provide insight to counselors and teachers to aid students in pursuing careers based on strengths and interests. Leaders also assist with providing a combination of classroom instruction, hands-on projects, job-site tours and tours of local businesses.

With career pathway models highlighting the variety of careers available in the design and construction industry, students are encouraged to select an entry point to the industry based on personal preference and individual fit. Students who are interested in a career in the field may go straight to work, join an apprenticeship program or attend a community college. Students interested in the industry’s design side can pursue university degrees in programs such as architecture and engineering for positions primarily in the office. Higher education programs like construction management offer students a more hybrid opportunity to bridge between the office and field.

Regardless of how someone enters the industry, leadership roles are available for every career pathway. Each trade specialty – plumbing, HVAC, electrical, infrastructure, heavy equipment operators, etc. – can grow into leadership roles such as foremen and superintendent. They are also able to work into project manager, general manager and even ownership roles with or without a formal education.

Academic scholarships are typically well-known opportunities for those pursuing a degree; however, there are industry-specific scholarships available for students pursuing certificates and degrees as well. Local employers and partners alike offer scholarships to students enrolled in degree-specific programs at Drury University, Missouri State University, Missouri University of Science and Technology, Midwest Technical Institute and Ozarks Technical Community College.

High school seniors are also eligible for industry-specific scholarships through local partners. Many of the opportunities are simple forms without GPA requirements to focus on holes left behind by traditional academic scholarships.

Because students are unable to work in the industry as minors, workforce development programs have been created over the years to provide students with opportunities to test-drive careers in the construction and trades industry. Programs such as Build My Future, Build U, ACE Mentor Program, Let’s Build, and a Go To Work Program for seventh- and eighth-graders provide hands-on activities with industry oversight. Each program offers opportunities to meet with industry professionals and college representatives or instructors; however, students are also provided the unique opportunity to meet with apprentices and college students. Utilizing college students and apprentices in workforce development programs allows for high school students to ask questions about career pathways, trade school programs, apprenticeship programs and more before graduation. Apprentices and college students often learn while teaching high school students, as well, for a win-win opportunity.

Partnerships among industry groups, businesses and the community at large have grown in recent years for sharing resources and promoting career opportunities. Resources like BuildTheOzarks.com provide a one-stop location for students, parents, teachers and others to explore career pathways, locate local education and apprenticeship programs, find video testimonies, and get involved in workforce development programs.

Industry partnerships between area educational institutions and area businesses lead to success for everyone involved. High schools are better equipped to stay up to date on certifications, licenses and industry trends with the assistance of those working in the industry. Local businesses connect with students and often recruit the best of the best before they graduate from high school.

The more we work together to build the students of today, the stronger our workforce will be tomorrow. By utilizing industry advisory groups within schools and workforce development programs, each of us can focus on what we do best: teaching, training and preparing our youth. By building additional partnerships and sharing resources, we will continue to grow as an industry and community.

Megan Short is executive director of the Springfield Contractors Association, a member of the Salute to Design & Construction Council. She can be reached at megan@springfieldcontractors.org.

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