Increased involvement from the business community is being sought in an initiative designed to improve communication between public school educators and employers in Wilkes County.
The Business Industry Education Forum (BIEF) was started last October when representatives of some of the largest companies in Wilkes were invited to a discussion of workforce needs and issues in the county.
Organizers were April Marr, career development coordinator for the Wilkes schools; Todd Williams, career and technical education director for the Wilkes schools; and Mike Pierce, workforce development chairman and lead advanced materials instructor at Wilkes Community College (WCC).
Representatives of about 25 local businesses are participating in quarterly BIEF meetings, but Ms. Marr said goals this coming year include having more companies represented.
In the meetings, company representatives talk about the technical and “soft” skills they want employees to possess. Soft skills include ability to communicate and work with others, appropriate attire and expectations and more.
The meetings also include discussion of the Wilkes school curriculum and how well it addresses workplace needs and reflects best business practices.
Ms. Marr said another BIEF goal in the coming year is to provide more work-based learning opportunities for students and educators and promote student enrollment in post-secondary education.
She said this includes increasing the number of businesses that provide work-based learning experiences for high school and WCC students by hosting student interns and/or apprentices.
There were 17 Wilkes high school student interns last year, mostly from East Wilkes High School, but Ms. Marr said there were considerably more each year before the position she now holds was vacant for several years. She was named career development coordinator in August 2012.
She said most interns are high school juniors or seniors because transportation is often an issue for younger students. They typically aren’t paid, Ms. Marr added.
A student can request an internship at a certain business and the business will be contacted to see if it can be worked out or a student can be matched with a business that already agreed to have interns, she said.
Students need to complete an internship application, available from school guidance counselors and on the school system website.
Completion of two career technical education courses is a prerequisite for internships in many fields. A semester-long internship, which earns one hour of course credit, is typically 7 ½ hours per week and 135 hours per semester.
Ms. Marr said goals for the coming year also include recruiting more businesses and Wilkes educators for the “externship” program, held for the first time this year. Each participating educator goes to at least two places of work, spending a half day at each and learning what the businesses do and skills needed to work there.
For the first year, the EDC allocated $3,700 to pay educators a stipend of $100 for each day they participate in the program.
In addition to teachers, guidance counselors should participate in the externship program because of their influential role in career and post-high school education decisions.
Companies interested in participating in BIEF, the student internship program or the educator externship program can call Ms. Marr at 651-7009.
Career day events, in which business representatives visit the schools, also are planned.
Ms. Marr said representatives of Wilkes Regional Medical Center and three local companies will talk to Wilkes CTE teachers about issues workforce issues in a meeting organized through BIEF Friday at the Walker Center in Wilkesboro.
Speakers will be Gene Faile, president and CEO of WRMC; Jim Halsey, human resources director at Louisiana Pacific; Eric Cramer, chief executive officer and general manager of Wilkes Telecommunications in Wilkesboro and Nancy Call, director of customer care at Lowe’s Companies Inc.
North Carolina State University’s Institute for Emerging Issues (IEI) is also focusing on better alignment of the needs of manufacturers with North Carolina’s educational systems.
IEI partnered with the N.C. Association of County Commissioners, N.C. Cooperative Extension Service and the N.C. Community College System to co-host 20 forums across the state, bringing together over 400 manufacturers, educators, city and county officials and others for this discussion.
School systems and manufacturers partnering to provide internships for students was among strategies that resulted from the forums. Another strategy was informing teachers, counselors and families about opportunities with advanced manufacturing career path.
These topics and related information will be shared in a panel discussion, shared during a webinar hosted by IEI, from 10-11 a.m. Sept. 6.
To register for the webinar, go to http://www.cvent.com/events/iei-manufacturing-community-forum-webinar/event-summary-58648a9a7a8c4dacb3e35bbdb91c4beb.aspx.