This week, I attended the 2nd annual Building Pathways event hosted by Career Ready Berks in Berks County, Pennsylvania, (fun fact: Wyomissing in Berks County is the hometown of singer/pop-star Taylor Swift!) Anyway, the Career Ready Berks event brought together leaders from education, business and government to celebrate the work that has happened over the last two years in enhancing student experiences relating to career readiness. The Career Ready Berks Alliance has an active mission to coordinate work among 17 school districts, 2 career technology centers, a number of postsecondary education institutions, a workforce development system, and numerous employers to raise awareness of career options and help students make informed choices pursuing additional education and training around those career interests.
In particular, Career Ready Berks is modeling how education, workforce development and economic development can be well aligned around the same broad mission. In his remarks, Randy Peers, President and CEO of the Greater Reading Chamber Alliance, spoke directly to the new way of thinking about economic development and education.
He said, “We’ve had a paradigm shift. I’m an economic development guy. Traditional economic development was about ‘How do we attract companies to a place?’ mainly through real estate deals and incentive programs. The paradigm has shifted. Now it’s about, ‘How can we supply the talent that a company needs to grow and expand in a particular place?’”
That is a really important point. Talent is the key differentiator for business growth and expansion. A community that can demonstrate it is convening all its education sector and employer sector partners around talent development has a significant edge over communities that are fragmented and doing business as usual. The role of the chamber of commerce is a real “tell” as to whether the community is going in the right direction. Is the chamber leadership and its members actively talking about talent development and partnerships with local schools and colleges? Or is the chamber still mostly a networking club for local businesses?
Peers went on to affirm that the career development and work-based learning experiences for students scaling up across Berks County are a very positive indicator of this paradigm shift to talent development. These experiences are integrally linked to business volunteers being actively involved, and Career Ready Berks is developing processes and tools (like our forthcoming Seamless WBL) to allow for scalable business involvement.
Based on what I’ve seen so far, this movement has sustainability and a lot of political and institutional buy-in. If they keep moving, over time, the 70,000 students in the respective schools of Berks County will grow into young adults with a mature outlook and understanding of careers and the “career navigation” tools they need to pursue meaningful work. Another quiet but radical local success story in the making. Find out more at CareerReadyBerks.org
Hans Meeder is President of NC3T, the National Center for College and Career Transitions (www.nc3t.com). NC3T provides planning, coaching, technical assistance and tools to help community-based leadership teams plan and implement their college-career pathway systems and strengthen employer connections with education.