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The Charleston Metro Chamber has long been involved in public education and the community’s collective efforts to build local talent for our growing business needs. Our mission since 1773 – to serve as the collective voice of the business community to advance the region’s economy – leads to many areas of our work, not the least of which is ensuring that the region’s employers have the right talent to fill the needs of their organizations, now and into the future. And with 25,000 new jobs expected in a few short years, a productive talent pipeline is crucial.
The past year has seen exponential growth in our work to build local talent, and the results are capturing attention both locally and nationally. While many communities are working as we are, we don’t know of any that are accomplishing what we are, with multiple school districts, organizations and scores of businesses working together in such a seamless, regional and collaborative way. Through Career Academies, AGC Scholarships, Youth Apprenticeships and more, metro Charleston is setting the standard in career education and career assistance.
Career Academies give high school students an entirely different classroom experience; one that integrates industry-focused learning with core subjects such as math, science and English, so that the learning environment reflects the atmosphere and expectations of the 21st century workplace. In order to accomplish this, educators and business professionals must collaborate, working together to deliver curriculum that is representative of work in that field.
Two short years ago, we piloted our first Career Academy year with seven Academies in five high schools across two school districts. At the beginning of the 2014-2015 school year, there were nine high schools and 23 Career Academies in three school districts. Charleston County School District began implementing Academies in January and by August 2015, there will be 46 Career Academies in 22 high schools with nearly 15,000 students.
A round of applause, or perhaps a standing ovation, goes to the Academy Partners – countless businesses and their employees across multiple industries who are spending time with students on their career pathways. Without our Academy Partners, there would be no Academies. At the end of June, 2015, we have 102 Academy Partners and the number is growing. Yet to accommodate the additional Career Academies opening this fall, we need almost 100 more, and we encourage all Chamber members to find out how you can become involved.
Many careers require additional education beyond high school, and as more students become interested in careers, so too are they interested in learning more. The path to college has often been cleanly paved for the academic scholars who are headed to universities. What is not clear or easily traversed is the path for the student who wants to pursue a career and is capable, yet not overly academic. The student, who is passing, perhaps with C+ grades, is often overlooked as one who could go to college and become more ensconced in their career of choice and succeed.
AGC Scholarships, funded by the Chamber’s Accelerate Greater Charleston (AGC) campaign, is making the difference for these students and their families. Available to Career Academy students, the scholarship pays for full tuition and books toward a two-year associates degree at TTC. In 2014, the Chamber awarded the first 12 AGC Scholarships to local students; 11 of which represented the first generation in their family to attend college. A year later, all 12 students have successfully completed their first year, and are in the process of continuing. An additional 15 scholarships were awarded in 2015, with plans to continue to increase the number of scholarships available each year.
Youth Apprenticeship Programs
The Chamber, in partnership with TTC, the South Carolina Youth Apprenticeship Program and numerous local businesses, has created a new pathway contributing to the talent pipeline. The
Youth Apprenticeship Program has achieved momentous growth in one short year.
It began as an opportunity to get more students engaged in manufacturing; exploring the various types of positions available across several industries that provide stimulating work projects in safe environments with lucrative compensation. In 2014, five local companies provided apprenticeships for a total of 11 high school juniors. In addition to taking their regular high school classes, the students spent two days a week in classes at TTC, receiving dual credit (towards both high school graduation and an associates degree). The apprentices also received job training for up to two hours per day during the school year and up to 40 hours a week during the summer, earning $10.00 per hour in addition to the rich work experience. The tuition and books for TTC are paid for with AGC investments. Upon graduation, the apprentices will have a high school diploma, certification from the U.S. Department of Labor, a nearly completed associates degree and, likely, a full-time job making more money and benefits than their university bound peers.
Due to the positive response the first year, the Youth Apprenticeship Program has expanded in 2015 from five companies and 11 apprenticeships to 33 companies providing apprenticeships to 40 students who will begin working this fall in three industry clusters – manufacturing, IT and hospitality.
As the current school year came to a close, more than 400 people came together to celebrate the results of a busy year to advance career readiness in Charleston. The event, Accelerating Career Education held June 9th at TTC, shined a spotlight on the wonderful collaboration between numerous organizations to move the needle on talent. Working in tandem, we are making a difference and building our talent pipeline so that our employers have access to highly trained, career ready staff, and our local students can find exciting opportunities to fuel their success while staying in this vibrant region we call home.