Aspire Economic Development + Chamber Alliance is moving ahead with efforts to create an education-industry partnership. The Johnson County-wide initiative is designed to identify opportunities to further develop and build a school-to-career labor pool pipeline.
Aspire separately assembled educators and businesses to discuss workforce challenges. It then brought the two groups together to discuss and plan opportunities to further develop and build the labor pool.
Kent DeKoninck, Ph.D., has assisted Aspire with facilitation of these meetings as former superintendent for the Greenwood Community School Corp. “I am very happy with the participation and feedback from educators and business partners,” he said. “We’ve got a long way to go but I am encouraged – both educators and businesspeople have come to the table with challenges and solutions.”
DeKoninck added that he was pleased to be asked to work on the project. “Part of my work as a school superintendent involved getting job opportunities for students. And my work with local businesses as a volunteer for Aspire involved me in efforts to grow the local workforce. These experiences, I think, enabled me to become a conduit for this program, working to provide opportunities for students and a workforce for businesses.”
The meetings began in October 2021 when Aspire assembled educators from Johnson County representing K-12 public school districts as well as Ivy Tech and Franklin College, said Aspire Vice President of Economic Development Amanda Rubadue, CEcD. At this meeting, educators shared current workplace learning programs and initiatives, and they discussed why those alliances with businesses are successful, she said. Educators also discussed their institutions’ needs in getting career pathway opportunities for students and how businesses can assist with those efforts.
Aspire then gathered business partners for a similar type of conversation, Rubadue said. They discussed current challenges faced in recruiting and retaining a strong workforce and how they were collaborating with educators in developing a labor pipeline. These business partners were asked how they could help further build a relationship with local educators to train, recruit and retain a strong workforce.
“With the wealth of information gathered in these two separate meetings, Aspire then brought educators and business partners together to collaboratively engage in planning opportunities geared to further developing and building the labor pool from school to career,” Rubadue said. Attendees participated in small group breakout sessions where they discussed the need for a student job shadowing experience, career paths for employees, connecting adult learners to educational opportunities and teaching parents and students what is available from companies, she said.
Aspire President and CEO Christian Maslowski said, “As a result of these conversations, Aspire is currently planning summer teacher field trips to let educators peek into local workplaces and engage in dialogue with local employers. And we are hosting virtual field trips to businesses during class time. Also, we are drafting a work-based learning handbook template for schools and employers to implement, and we are planning to host a series of school-business alliance roundtable meetings.”
Maslowski said that from these meetings, it was clear that there are some strong relationships already established between the two groups. “We realize there is much work yet to do, and this is only the beginning. Aspire remains committed to facilitating these business partner and educator meetings to further build a formal school-to-career pipeline that builds the foundation for stronger economic growth in Johnson County.”
“Workforce development is one fifth of our Economic Development Strategic Plan,” said Rubadue. “One of the five goals for this plan is to ‘magnify and deliver robust education and workforce endeavors.’ Having these conversations with so many willing partners has allowed Aspire to take ideas from these meetings and put them into immediate action.”