A region’s economic health largely depends on its skilled workforce pipeline. Each year, BRAC releases a Workforce Report that analyzes projected high-wage jobs and the number of people in the Capital Region currently being trained for those roles. The 2018 Workforce Report was released in early November and offered recommendations to continue pushing for progress in 2019. To expand on those recommendations, BRAC created the Workforce Wednesday limited blog series. For the next month on Wednesdays, a new post will be published on the BRAC Blog providing greater insight into recommendations and providing guidance to continue moving the needle on workforce development.

To better prepare students for life after school, local K-12 educators must provide meaningful opportunities for student engagement in workplace environments.

Historically, K-12 education systems have been insulated environments. They are places where students learn the academic foundation necessary to succeed after graduation, but often lack opportunities for experiential learning that is necessary for success in the workplace. Increasingly, students are pressured to choose a career path at an earlier age; a decision that many college students and adults have trouble making. Increasing the amount of exposure to careers and real-life work situations will make students more likely to succeed in post-secondary programs and in the workplace.  

One of BRAC’s initiatives bringing workplace environments into the classroom to support experiential learning and career exploration is BRAC’s Virtual Schoolhouse. The Virtual Schoolhouse is an online platform that connects business and industry professionals to students in classrooms across the Capital Region. BRAC, in partnership with Nepris, hosts the platform in which business leaders can volunteer as guest speakers, give tours of facilities, and provide mentorship opportunities – all without leaving their offices. The Virtual Schoolhouse allows local professionals to engage one-on-one with a student, a classroom, or even multiple classrooms at once. These connections provide a vital glimpse into the workplace to which many students don’t have access. Since launching in 2016, the Virtual Schoolhouse has facilitated over 5,000 industry engagements between Capital Region students and business representatives, exposing students to a range of professional fields, career opportunities, and important workplace behaviors. 

Workplace exploration can also be a useful tool in addressing the lack of soft skills attainment that was referenced in last week’s Workforce Wednesday post. The Virtual Schoolhouse plays this important role in another BRAC initiative, the Micro-Enterprise Credential. This high school career credential provides students with the fundamental skills and knowledge necessary to be effective small business employees and entrepreneurs. The 724 high school students in the Capital Region who earned the credential in the 2017-2018 school year received training in critical workplace behavioral and communication skills through a facilitated conversation with an unfamiliar business mentor – often via the Virtual Schoolhouse. In addition to guiding this important mentoring discussion, BRAC’s Micro-Enterprise Credential has students learning the process of starting a business and the financial concepts necessary to access capital and credit. These combined experiences are assets that can provide a baseline of knowledge and skills needed for success in small business ownership and high-demand occupations such as Bookkeeper, Accounting, and Auditing Clerk, as well as Paralegal and Legal Assistant, thus creating a skilled pipeline of candidates for openings in our region.

Written by Ethan J. Melancon

As the policy and research project manager, Ethan is the staff lead for education and workforce development focusing on cultivating the Capital Region’s talent through STEM learning and aligning workforce development systems to meet business needs.