Building a Stronger Talent Pool: How the Nashville Chamber Helped Students Get Excited about In-Demand Careers

April 24, 2018

As Nashville’s economy continues to grow at a tremendous pace, the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce is focused on helping to address and support the talent needs of regional employers in a rapidly-changing environment. 

Recognizing that K-12 schools are preparing today’s students for the in-demand careers of tomorrow, the Nashville Chamber has made improvement of public education its number one priority. With the right tools and guidance, we believe our community can help educators shrink the skills gap and nurture a broader, more diverse talent pool that is ready and willing to tackle industry challenges. One area of that focus is career exposure.

To encourage young people to think more proactively about their prospective job opportunities– and help area employers better understand and connect with future workers – the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce partners with Metro Nashville Public Schools (MNPS) to host an annual “My Future, My Way” career fair that brings the district’s 7,000 9th grade students together with more than 300 business leaders.

The fair helps students plan their 10th grade transition into the MNPS Academies of Nashville, which are smaller learning communities with a distinct career or thematic focus, such as health care, technology, or communications. Local businesses partner with the Academies to offer students real-world experiences and help prepare them for future jobs. 

However, preparing for such a big event can be overwhelming for students who have had little previous exposure to the depth and breadth of career options in the Middle Tennessee region. That’s why in 2017, the Chamber worked with Metro Nashville Public Schools to provide a career guidance tool called YouScience to students.

Unlike traditional, interest-based assessments, YouScience measures aptitudes and provides students with a personalized online profile that highlights the intersection of his or her unique talents with in-demand career opportunities, including what postsecondary degree would be necessary to work that job and average salaries.

For 9th grade students, exposure to information about their natural aptitudes prior to the annual career fair was a game changer. Students were fascinated with their results, spending time in the classroom talking with teachers and their peers about the array of career opportunities that fit with their individual abilities. 

Whites Creek High School teacher Amanda Adcock said that freshmen were researching jobs prior to the annual career fair. Because they had an idea of their aptitudes and aligned career pathways, students realized they had more career options. "This [program] gets them thinking beyond high school," Adcock said. "Most think that college isn't a reality when it actually is."

When it came time to participate in the career fair, a number of students agreed that the career guidance helped direct them to relevant industry leaders. Furthermore, students’ YouScience results have been instrumental in helping Metro Nashville Public School educators reach students and guide them into appropriate college and career-readiness pathways.  

The local NPR affiliate, WPLN, reports on aptitude testing:

There’s a quiet kid in the back of the classroom named Mosaad Jawish. He says he doesn’t know what he wants to do. He just wants a job that makes good money, something in tech or maybe a mechanic. His top recommendations all have him managing a team. That’s a revelation for him. He says that probably means he’s a decent leader. He didn’t know that.

Feedback like this could be helpful immediately to his teacher Michelle Scott Long. She says she’ll try to get him to break out of his shell, maybe by implementing more group activities.

At the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce, we believe strongly in investing in education as a way to help support the region’s continued prosperity and engaging community leaders.

We are fortunate to live in a city that attracts national and international companies eager to create jobs in our communities. But to encourage future growth and long-term investment, we must cultivate a pipeline of talented young people who understand how to apply their strengths and talents to a successful and fulfilling career.

Photos from the 2017 career fair:

Career Fair 2017