Best Practices
November 16, 2010

Rochester (MN) Area Chamber of Commerce Connecting the School-to-Work Pipeline

Rochester, Minnesota has an education reform advocate in the Rochester Area Chamber of Commerce. Seeking to transform the community’s educational systems, the chamber’s foundation has taken a holistic approach in that they offer a range of programs which champion both excellent educational standards and flexible, dynamic workplaces that effectively connect with the skills taught in the region’s K-12 schools.

Founded in 1990 with the purpose of being the educational and scholarship arm of the Rochester Area Chamber of Commerce, the foundation engages in several notable programs.

Particularly noteworthy is their attention to K-12 education, specifically STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) education. With the understanding that 90 percent of the fastest growing occupations will be in STEM fields, the chamber’s foundation sponsors an annual STEM summit, where businesses that call for a workforce with special STEM skills come together to meet with higher education, local government representatives, and community members to discuss best practices for motivating and inspiring children to pursue STEM careers. In November 2010, the summit brought together more than 70 area businesses and higher education providers and a record 1,800 area students in grades 6-11.

The chamber’s foundation also partners with the Rochester Area School District to offer Learn.Do.Earn., a business-driven and designed program to be utilized by teachers, parents and students in an effort to inform, motivate and guide students (grades 6-12) as they navigate their way through high school and beyond.

With a goal of informing students of the demands they will face in the future workforce, Learn.Do.Earn. uses eye-popping data (e.g. Students who increase their grades from a ‘C’ to a ‘B’ can earn 13 percent more when they enter the workforce and 8 out of 10 jobs available in the next decade will require education beyond high school) to provide students with a statistical rationale for working hard now and taking challenging courses in math, science and language arts in order to be prepared for college, work, and life. The program has had such a successful track record so far that the foundation will be expanding it to private and other nearby school districts.

But the chamber’s work does not stop there. In terms of early childhood education, the foundation is a member of the First Steps Business Alliance, which is a public-private economic development program wherein alliance members invest in excellent early childhood programs that help foster future students’ hunger for learning and a curiosity about the world around them.

The foundation’s latest venture will be hosting a community conversation to reflect upon the issues and perspectives presented in the informative and compelling documentary “Waiting for ‘Superman’”, which highlights the crisis in the American public education system. Its goal is to foster construction conversation regarding what this national crisis means locally and inspire individual and shared accountability for fostering globally competitive students, workers, and active citizens.

“The Rochester Area Chamber of Commerce is committed to ensuring all our students are globally competitive and ready for college, work, and life,” says Jess Ihrke, vice president of workforce/education. “This is not possible with a ‘business as usual’ mentality from any sector in our community. The Chamber is uniquely positioned to be the catalyst to convene cross-sector partnerships and dialogue needed in order to foster the change needed in our education system to produce the workforce demanded in this era of innovation.”

Learn more about the Rochester Area Chamber of Commerce’s commitment to building a pipeline from P-16 educational systems directly into the region’s future workforce.

This article was featured on page 8 of the December 2010 edition of Rochester (MN) Chamber's "Chamber Advantage."