In an effort to gain a real-world understanding of the skills students need to be successful in the STEM careers of the future, employers and educators are working together to align theory and application.
This summer, 25 middle school teachers from Rutherford County Schools will enter the doors of county businesses in high-demand industries as part of the Rutherford Works teacher externship program. “We created this opportunity for educators to help them become more knowledgeable about the needs of business and industry,” states Beth Duffield, Rutherford Works senior vice president of education and workforce development. “Work environments outside of the classroom are very different than school-based environments and about 80% of teachers have never worked outside of the classroom.”
For two weeks in July, dedicated teachers from Blackman, Christiana, Rocky Fork, Siegel and Whitworth-Buchanan Middle Schools will immerse themselves in the daily work of staff from Calsonic Kansei, Ingram Content Group, Nissan North America, TriStar Stone Crest Medical Center and Turner Construction. “By immersing our middle school teachers into the culture and systems of our industry partners, we hope to show educators how they can merge occupational practices with classroom experiences,” explains Regina Ward, director of education and workforce development at Rutherford Works. “Spotlighting soft and technical skills that are desperately needed in today’s workplace lays the groundwork for students at an early age to be successful as they prepare for a career.”
“Plus, our region is seeing exponential job growth. What better way to meet that demand and prepare students for success than to bring businesses and educators together in support of their future?” emphasized Ward. By creating access to hands-on learning experiences for teachers through an externship experience, middle school students will have increased exposure to a larger spectrum of growing careers that match their interests, aptitudes and goals. “The real work starts after the teachers have had these amazing experiences within the expanding industries of Rutherford County,” she beams. “Teachers are responsible for taking the lessons and insights they’ve learned and applying them in the classroom so students are better informed about their career options.
Rutherford Works launched this program last year to not only inform educators but to also help grow a talent pipeline for the 5 high-wage, high-demand sectors; construction, health care, information technology, manufacturing and supply chain management. “The number of job openings in these STEM-based career fields continues to grow as jobs are added and baby boomers look toward retirement. We have to do something now to help our companies and future workforce continue to thrive in our community,” added Duffield.
During this teacher externship, educators not only experience first-hand the competencies students need to master in order to compete successfully in the high-wage, high-growth jobs of the future, they also cultivate relationships with talent-seeking employers who can provide students with opportunities for career exploration through the Rutherford Works Career Pathways Partnership.
In keeping with the Pathways Partnership goal of career exploration and the Tennessee Department of Education’s Strategic Imperative, All means All, the teacher externship gives priority to educators who serve schools with a high Title I population. “Here at the Chamber of Commerce, we serve all of our Rutherford County students. Our Title I students may have unique challenges, but we want to make sure their exposure to opportunity is equal to those of their peers within the district, and honestly, throughout the states,” states Ward.
During their externship, teachers also attend in-depth training and orientation sessions where employers, post-secondary educators, and district leaders will discuss current and future workforce needs, the need for hard and soft skills in the workplace, and ways to implement the newly introduced YouScience aptitude assessment results into advising and guidance. By combining multiple resources into one comprehensive program, educators and industry professionals are enhancing student’s exposure to the multitude of career options available to them.
The main takeaway is that teachers will enter the field of high-demand industries with a broad understanding of core competencies and walk away with direct knowledge of how STEM skills are applied in the workforce which will positively affect career guidance and readiness.