I have the privilege of co-chairing the Greater Wichita Partnership’s “Business and Education Alliance.” Our mission is to “align education and business communities to ensure a productive workforce needed for sustained economic growth for our region,” and our vision is a “seamless partnership that produces a globally competitive workforce for the region.”
The BEA includes representatives from a wide range of businesses, major community nonprofits, area school district superintendents, representatives from the Kansas State Board of Education, and other regional higher education leaders. Over the past few years, we have researched best practices for incorporating “soft skills” training in schools, sponsored a “Literacy Summit,” promoted “Principal for a Day” for business and civic leaders to witness the fine work being done in our schools, championed the Summer Youth Employment Project led by the Workforce Alliance, and urged all community members to participate in the Women of the United Way’s “Read to Succeed” program. Last year more than 400 community volunteers had at-risk third-graders read to them each week, and the students gains in literacy were measurable.
What we have come to learn is that workforce readiness and development are “cradle to career” processes and in that sense we have to take a long term view. We have settled on some key metrics that will, over time, help us to monitor and gauge success – Kindergarten Readiness, Early (Third) Grade Reading, Middle Grade Math, high school graduation rates, and postsecondary success (earned a certificate, enrolled in some postsecondary program [technical, community college, four-year college]).
We have been very encouraged to learn about the Kansas State Department of Education’s “Kansans Can” blueprint and vision for Education: “A successful Kansas high school graduate has the academic preparation, cognitive preparation, technical skills, employability skills and civic engagement to be successful in postsecondary education, the attainment of an industry recognized certification or in the workforce, without the need for remediation.” The state vision calls for every middle school and high school student to have an “Individual Plan of Study” based on their career interest that will prepare them by high school graduation to be ready for the workforce, the military, a certificate program, or a two- or four-year college entry. The goal is for a statewide high school graduation rate of 95% by 2026, whereas the current rate is nearly 87%. In our region that rate varies from 74 to 92%, depending upon the district.
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We in the BEA know that currently we have a great need in our region for skilled manufacturing workers. We know, also, that employers are clamoring for information technology, health care, education, and other business graduates from our two- and four-year colleges and universities. We need all types of postsecondary education to ensure economic development for our community. And we have come to believe that nothing less than that 95% high school graduation rate goal will get us to that workforce readiness that we need. We are thrilled that a key theme that has emerged in the Project Wichita community vision process is the view that lifelong learning and talent development and retention are essential investments to ensure the economic future of this region.
This is a project we believe that we can all get behind. And so we urge you to think about at least one way you can contribute to these long-term community goals. Perhaps you can help a preschooler, have a third-grader read to you, tutor a middle school student struggling with math, or offer a high school student an internship or summer job. We think you’ll find that the rewards of these engagements far exceed the time and effort you devote to them.
Noreen Carrocci is president of Newman University