Chambers play big role in facilitating ready workforce

Friday, September 15, 2017

by Jennifer Sharpe

Journal Record

To ensure a ready workforce, especially in times of expansion or relocation, one of the greatest assets to the business community is the local chamber of commerce. The chamber helps facilitate connections between businesses and local educational institutions to make certain the workforce is educated and trained.

“The chamber is a resource for businesses to fill a need,” said Michelle Vegliante, senior manager, community enhancement with the Association of Chamber of Commerce Executives. “The chamber has the business voice. They understand what the business needs, and they can translate that to educators and institutes of higher learning.”

Vegliante said chambers can influence workforce development for educational attainment: policy, messaging, programs, and systems change.

Programs have been an integral part of workforce training and development in Charleston, South Carolina. Mary Graham, chief advancement officer for the Charleston Metro Chamber of Commerce, shares how a talent gap analysis helped motivate the start of its Career Academies and Youth Apprentices Program. Looking at projected jobs, skills needed for those jobs, and how their educational system was aligned to provide those skills, gaps were found all the way down at the high school level.

“If we didn’t do something to drastically prepare our own local kids, we were losing them,” Graham said. “Our local jobs were going to outside people moving in.”

As a result, the Charleston Metro Chamber designed Career Academies in its local high schools, focusing on local niche industries of science, technology, engineering and mathematics; hospitality/culinary; business/information technology; and health sciences. Now, five years later, the chamber has developed 62 career academies in 22 high schools.

“Our chamber’s job is to facilitate business engagement with the academies,” Graham said.

The Youth Apprentice Program, which started as a pilot four years ago, now has about 100 students and involves 120 companies. The program is for juniors and seniors in high school, and offers 15 different tracks. Students attend high school, as well as technical college for two or three days a week. Partner companies hire program students for summer employment and offer employment throughout the school year as well.

Students emerge from the program after two years with a high school diploma, a U.S. Department of Labor certification, college coursework, and two years of work experience, all free of charge because the program is fully funded by the chamber with financial support from the business community.

“The uniqueness of our programs is the solid partnership with the school districts, the technical college, and the business community,” Graham said. “As a result of these programs, we have had significant job growth and economic growth.”

Vegliante said the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce sets the standard for excellence when it comes to workforce development through collective impact and overall systems change, the transformational shift that occurs when “everyone comes to the table with the same goals.”

“Historically, chambers have been episodically involved in workforce development,” said David Rattray, executive vice president, Center for Education Excellence and Talent Development at the Los Angeles Area Chamber, which has 33 employees dedicated to workforce and talent development. “We’ve been involved in workforce development education since 1888 when we were founded.”

“We have to be the intermediary, and really create a true partnership between higher education and training programs in the employer community.” Rattray said.

Greater Oklahoma City Chamber President and CEO Roy H. Williams described the role of the chamber as “constantly communicating with local universities to encourage them to have a presence with the business community. The educational institutions are a key part of the team, where the chambers are the captains or the conductors.”

The Greater Oklahoma City Chamber has played a significant role in the relocation of two companies to its metro area – Boeing and Dell.

“The Greater Oklahoma City Chamber has been an invaluable partner to Boeing Oklahoma City. The chamber has conducted multiple events for Boeing employees who are located outside the state, responding to questions and highlighting the benefits of living and working in Oklahoma. This outreach has helped Boeing recruit employees with critical skills to come work in our Oklahoma City facility in unprecedented levels,” said Mikeal Clayton, site director and senior counsel, The Boeing Co.

Collaboration with the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber connected Dell with Oklahoma’s CareerTech system.

“The CareerTech system has been a valuable partner for Dell EMC Oklahoma City,” says Scott Haworth, site director, Dell EMC Oklahoma City. “When we opened our doors in Oklahoma City 13 years ago, CareerTech was instrumental in training our employees, which allowed us to ramp up quickly and immediately begin serving our customers. CareerTech has also developed a successful talent pipeline for our recruiting efforts, and offers continuing education for our employees, which has been important to our success.”

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