The following column, written by Indiana Chamber Vice President Tom Schuman, was written for Inside INdiana Business:
In the not exactly breaking news category, there is dysfunction at the top in leadership of Indiana’s K-12 education efforts with plenty of blame to go around. But the good news is this column has nothing to do with that.
Instead, it tells about the focus being placed where it needs to be – on today’s students who will be the future workforce and aspiring community leaders. We detail some of these stories in the March-April issue of BizVoice magazine, but share a few highlights with you here.
Like in Wabash, which initiated the Wabash County Promise to provide K-3 students with 529 college savings accounts to begin to change the culture and mindset about higher education. Students with accounts are seven times more likely to continue their education beyond high school, but this program is so much more than that.
Families, teachers, the business community, private sector funding partners and others are engaged and energized. The “promise” has expanded to LaGrange, Noble and Whitely counties and the application period is open through March 9 for additional pilots for the 2015-2016 school year. The ultimate goal: a successful Promise Indiana program.
Or go to Batesville in the southeastern portion of the state. The K-12 system, Ivy Tech Community College and local businesses have partnered on a program that has students dividing their time between all three locations each week. The result is young people with on-the-job work experience and substantial credits toward an associate degree – before they receive their high school diploma.
(Batesville has a variety of other initiatives that allow students to gain real-world experiences as a result of educators acknowledging that a great deal of learning takes place “outside our walls.”)
The school-business connection is Batesville is beginning to be replicated in other locations around the state. The Indiana Works Councils, specifically created to help these conversations and alignments occur, seem to be doing just that.
It does cause one to wonder, however: Why did this take so long? Business haves complained about not having access to the skilled workforce they need; educators, as a nature of their profession, are dedicated to helping ensure future success for their students.
Rick Sherck, executive director of the Noble County Economic Development Corporation, offered an explanation in BizVoice.
“For the most part, industry and education knew they needed each other. But they didn’t know how to go about forming that relationship. Sometimes it’s been an adversarial relationship. You hire someone out of high school and you complain about the educational system because they didn’t prepare them. It’s not industry’s fault and it’s not education’s fault. We just need to work together and find solutions and positive ways to engage youth.”
Educators, if you’re not going into your local businesses to see how the skill sets have changed with today’s jobs, do so. The doors will be open. If the reasoning from school leaders is that too many other requirements prevent such activities, challenge the status quo and make time.
Business leaders, don’t complain about a lack of workforce skills unless you’re ready to be part of the solution. In fact, you should be driving the solution as a leading partner. Invest your time in the young people in your community and you will realize the benefits for years to come.
Remember, it’s all about the students. Keep that top of mind and great things will happen.