Chamber Year in Review: Building the Local Workforce
America’s workforce challenge has become more front and center in recent years, and has recently hit a new level of concern. Currently, there are more jobs available in the U.S. than there are people to fill them. Worse yet, those in need of employment don’t have the skills necessary to actually do the jobs that sit open. As Chambers of Commerce, this problem is eating at our core mission: protecting and promoting our local business community.
For us, a suburban Chamber in New Braunfels, TX, the overall workforce issue is one of duality. The current workforce is untrained for the jobs of today, and our future workforce has a ‘grass is greener’ mentality, often looking for opportunity outside of our region.
But we know, and local business leaders know, that the opportunities in our own community are rich, if only students and families know that they exist. Like most Chambers across the country finding themselves in similar terrain, we needed a solution that would create a sustainable, well-trained workforce to support the needs of local business and industry.
We assembled a task force that included stakeholders from K-12, higher education, adult education, local businesses, industry associations, the county, the city, and the Mayor. From this experience at the very beginning of our journey, we learned that partnership is crucial. Every member of this team played a critical role with unique priorities, each one of us bringing a different perspective, need, and potential solution to the table.
As a team, we reviewed the current state of our local economy and our workforce challenges, as well as the challenges we face within our education system. We gathered feedback from school teachers, career and college counselors, and other stakeholders to identify the line connecting students to available career opportunities. What we learned is that it was a broken line.
Connecting learners of all ages with industry professionals from our own community to highlight available career opportunities, as well as the skills and experience required for that career, became our top priority. To make those connections we used Nepris, an online skills-based volunteering platform, and expanded our task force into an online community.
Through this community, called NB/STEAM, local businesses can virtually connect with local classrooms to discuss career opportunities and the skills needed for professional success. The platform has a local community focus and is easy for both teachers and industry professionals to get involved.
Trainings, teacher externships, and virtual connections between industry professionals and classrooms happened quickly and the feedback was incredible. A year later, the work of our task force has impacted and motivated thousands of students, and we’re just getting started.
What we learned is that the workforce issue is a long-term problem, thus requiring a long-term solution. Our program is still growing and there is more work to do, but our path is clear. We have made a true paradigm shift in how we not only educate our future generations, but how we, as a community, can better prepare them for all there is to encounter, explore, overcome, and achieve in this fast-paced world we live in.
The community workforce challenges that our Chamber is solving are not unique. We encourage other Chambers of Commerce across the country to remove the silos we have built ourselves into and organize locally to connect the broken line between classroom and career. The solution may look different for each community, but the tools are out there to achieve success.