Guest Column

GEAR UP for tomorrow’s workforce

January 24, 2020
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“Who let the students in? And those teachers, what are they doing here?”

Think about where your workforce will come from in the next two, five or 10 years. 

You and your company can affect K-12 education in your county. Would you open your workplace to students and teachers to share with them how you use math, how you add value, how you make money?

By allowing students and teachers to see what you do in your office or on the plant floor, you present possible career paths for students, as well as potential lesson plan ideas to teachers. By making your workplace an extension of the classroom and hosting tours, job shadowing and internships, you energize your staff, connect teachers to relevant content and inspire students to see themselves in the working world.

In its Vision 2020 report about the state of workforce development in the region, Talent 2025 presented recommendations to fill vacancies in a knowledge-based economy. Among them: to increase the number of employers who share information about their education and training needs, and to improve career exploration, coaching and navigation for students and adults. 

Grand Rapids Community College is one of many West Michigan stakeholders collaborating strategically to grow a skilled labor force.

For instance, the Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs (GEAR UP) grant awarded to GRCC in October 2018 provides funding for academic support and career exploration opportunities for the Class of 2024 in Wyoming’s four school districts: Godwin Heights, Godfrey-Lee, Kelloggsville and Wyoming public schools. Specifically, the grant provides math tutors for in-class support and after-school sessions, and funds professional development for middle and high school math teachers.

Cascade Engineering in February will open one of its local plants for GEAR UP students to learn more about design and manufacturing. GEAR UP students in March will get a close-up view of robotics and agribusiness during stops at Montcalm Community College. As part of a math-intensive summer academy, students will meet researchers at the Van Andel Education Institute, compete in a math Olympiad at Davenport University and engage in math circles at Calvin University.

Many community partners are stepping forward to help students. But we need your help to support the real change agents: our teachers. Indeed, school districts negotiate professional development sessions to set academic calendars well in advance. Still, industry can inform these negotiations by offering teachers opportunities to job shadow and learn how math is used in workplaces so they can return to classrooms with relevant applications and experiences. 

So, for the extra work entailed to schedule a student career exploration visit or a teacher-in-industry training session, most often performed by human resources and communications departments, I thank you. Know that your efforts will move students to pursue postsecondary credentials that just might lead them right back to your doors. And that would be a West Michigan win-win.

Steve Beauclair coordinates the GEAR UP Wyoming grant at Grand Rapids Community College.

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