July 27, 2022


Brian Crouse, vice president of education programs at the Missouri Chamber of Commerce, knows the challenges of finding an educational or work pathway that allows someone to flourish.

“I was one of those students that didn’t pay attention in classrooms,” Crouse said. “I didn’t have a good high school experience but managed to really shine when I got into the world of work and worked my way up into manufacturing and retail environments. I then had an opportunity to go to college for the very first time, and I wanted to go into education. At the time, I couldn’t get where I wanted to go with the education pathway that I had selected, and so I went back into my world of work, and then an opportunity opened up at a college working in the sales force of the recruitment team.”

After that experience, Crouse focused on educational policy and research at the Missouri Department of Education and has now worked at the Missouri Chamber of Commerce for the past 10 years leading their education workforce programs. He found out about the value proposition of the U.S. Chamber Foundation’s Business Leads Fellowship Program (Business Leads) through conversations with Kyle Butler, manager of programs, and Caitlin Codella Low, vice president of policy and programs.

Coming from his background in higher education policy, Crouse is keenly aware of how critical it is to bridge the gap between what the education sector provides for students and what the business community needs from potential workers coming out of their pipeline. The Business Leads fellowship offered him a new process and tools to communicate more effectively with these stakeholders.

“What I took away from the Business Leads Program was change management theory,” Crouse said. “We were immersed in an intensive Prosci change management theory session where experts came in and talked about what it’s like to go through change management, what are the tools and the resources, and that was new to me. It was about thinking it through step by step, looking at all the different pieces to engage in a policy discussion, and moving a policy issue forward. It helped me so much I thought about going through the Prosci training on my own just to get more honed and skilled in that.”

Leading up to the fellowship program in 2020, the Missouri Chamber developed a teacher externship program called Show-Me Careers Educator Experience, which had only been executed in a beta format and small cohorts of 20 to 30 people up until that point. The program offered participants the opportunity to deep dive into a particular industry such as IT, healthcare, manufacturing, or construction for a week. This experience allows teachers to learn more about the local job market so they can better inform and guide their students to viable careers. The program now has partnerships with the Kauffman Foundation, the Cape Girardeau Chamber of Commerce, and the Columbia Chamber of Commerce.

“The Business Leads Fellowship gave me a lot of different ways to look at how we would want to scale out a beta program and a pilot project into a statewide initiative, which we’re now taking,” Crouse explained. “We’ll have over 400 educators, counselors, and administrators by the end of the summer, having gone through that program, learning about industry and then utilizing curriculum in their classrooms to influence their students where they think about going into the world to work, how they look at college career pathways in a more meaningful way than what they had before.”

As part of their K-12 programming, the Missouri Chamber also hosts a Missouri Manufacturing Day event that caters to students and educators across the state. They first conducted the event virtually during the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic and leveraged partnerships with the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, Missouri University Extension Offices, and Missouri Enterprise. The event reached more than 8,900 students, which helped showcase some of the best leaders in Missouri manufacturing.

Due to the success of their Manufacturing Day event, the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education reached out to the Missouri Chamber to partner on a Missouri Healthcare Career Day this year. Conducted virtually, the session connected 6,000 students to workers at a particular hospital or healthcare provider in Missouri.

“The students get to see what an occupation is like, they get to see about the high-demand career pathways and the future within them, and they get to see that Missouri has some great career opportunities right here. They don’t need to look outside of the state of Missouri,” Crouse said. “For us, all those pieces just came together. Showcasing what your members do, showcasing the career pathways that they have, it has all been a very rewarding aspect for us at the chamber.”

See how a Business Leads Fellowship can help further your community’s workforce initiatives and economic vitality here.