Best Practices
May 7, 2008

The Shoals Chamber Connects its Secondary School System to Employers

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As one-third of the workforce prepares to retire over the next decade, the link between education and the workforce needs of the business community becomes all the more imperative. Preparing students for the transition from school to the working world means that local K-12 and post-secondary systems need to be aligned with local industry demands. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the area of career and technical education or CTE, where industries such as engineering, manufacturing, and energy/utilities are facing a shortage of candidates with proper science and math backgrounds. On the opposite side, the education community may not fully understand what local employers' staffing needs are.

In The Shoals, Alabama, all six public school systems were surveying local employers about workforce needs, but each had their own set of questions. In many cases, the audiences overlapped, so the same business could be filling out what seemed like the same survey multiple times. In addition, businesses and employers did not fully understand the very process they were being asked to comment on or how their feedback was going to be used. Naturally, response rates to the surveys were generally very low.

Seeing an opportunity to collect better data, and more of it, the Shoals (AL) Chamber of Commerce brought schools together to develop a standardized survey that would go out once a year to all local employers. The chamber worked with all six school systems to make the survey as efficient and relevant as possible, then stationed it online to make it easier to manage. Thus, the Shoals Business and Industry Workforce Needs Survey was launched in an effort to assist schools in improving their Business and Industry Certification (BIC) process every three years and better aligning CTE curriculum with industry needs. In taking over the management of the survey, the chamber added their membership base to the distribution list and has since seen a marked increase in the response rate.

The survey asks employers to identify their industry, the knowledge and skills required for work in that field, ideas for partnership between the education and business communities, and feedback on individual programs existing in each of the six school systems.

"Our workforce needs survey has been very helpful in hearing directly from business and industry so educators no longer have to guess what their needs are," says Stephanie Newland, director of workforce development at the Shoals Chamber of Commerce. "The two industries – business and education – are often foreign to each other and they don't know how to approach each other with their respective challenges. This survey allows a 'third party' approach that opens the door for the first person conversation that's ultimately needed."