Guest Column: Business and education continue to partner well

Published 9:23 am Monday, July 18, 2016

Guest Column by Randy Kehr

Randy Kehr is the executive director of the Albert Lea-Freeborn County Chamber of Commerce.

Now that the dust has settled on the 2015-2016 school year, I think that it is important to note some of the ways education and business have partnered over the last year. These partnership efforts are critical to the success of our businesses and our students. As you probably know, our available workforce is shrinking while, at the same time, the number of jobs requiring some type of post-secondary education is growing.

Randy Kehr

Randy Kehr

The Business/Education Committee, under the able leadership of Val Kvale of Workforce Development Inc., has continued its efforts to bring these two issues together. In regular meetings of the committee, representatives of school district and businesses seek to find solutions to these growing problems. Meeting monthly, their goal is to continue to narrow the gap between today’s high school students and tomorrow’s workplace.  They have done this in a number of ways.

Working through Val Kvale and the local HR group, the committee supported the Workforce Solutions series of seminars held in April, May and June. These seminars were designed to educate Human Resources professionals in the art of hiring and retaining workers from all generations. The last of these seminars focused on hiring across all generations with some emphasis on making their businesses attractive to millennials. Businesses need to consider the wants of the younger generation in marketing their firms to them.

The Committee has also supported the Youth Apprenticeship Program since its inception. This well-rounded journey into the everyday world of work has proven extremely beneficial to worksites and students alike. The most recent class graduated on June 13th. Seven students are currently registered for the 2016-2017 school year. However, we need to reach more students.

In order to reach more, they have attempted to connect students to businesses through partnering with the Albert Lea Education Foundation as it has invested in assisting Albert Lea High School students learn more about careers right here in our community.  Albert Lea High School has been running the Youth Apprenticeship Program since 2012, and recently added a mentorship class to its curriculum.  The Education Foundation has created and is funding Project Director Jean Eaton as she helps develop job shadowing and mentorship sites, identify classroom speakers and help in lining up possible Youth Apprenticeship businesses.  You will hear more about this effort moving forward but a number of businesses have stepped up to participate.

Additionally, the committee participated in two very important events for our students. The eighth-grade career exploration STEAM AHEAD event took place April 28 in Austin. Over 1,200 students from our region attended. Over 35 businesses participated and good interactive displays helped connect students by explaining, “Here’s what we do.” They also participated in a collaborative event with partners Workforce Development Inc., Albert Lea Area Schools and the Public Library to offer a young adult job fair on April 28.

The committee’s work is far from done. The challenges we face are many but education and business are partnering to find solution.