Western NC Community Cohort Team Holds Symposium to Address Regional Education and Workforce Goals
On Wednesday, Nov. 8, representatives from more than 85 organizations and institutions based in Western North Carolina attended the A3 Education and Workforce Symposium at UNC Asheville. The event was organized by the Talent First Economics Community Cohort Western Mountain Region team, a group of certified workforce development leaders helping increase employment opportunities for underrepresented workers in the region.
The symposium aimed to “Align, Aspire and Achieve” the region’s educational attainment and workforce development goals by gathering leaders across education, government, business and community-based sectors. Attendees had the opportunity to present their respective programs, learn from industry peers, and develop a greater understanding of the resources and organizations available to potential Western North Carolina workers and their employers.
Land of Sky P-20 Council Executive Director Emily Nicholson said the need to combine both education and workforce was an obvious choice when planning for the event.
“Research has proven more and more that you can’t separate K-12 from post secondary [education],” explained Nicholson. “So it sort of is a natural thing for us to thread those things together.”
At the symposium, attendees heard from Biltmore Farms CEO and IEI National Advisory Board Chair Jack Cecil, UNC Asheville Interim Chancellor Kimberly Van Noort, and myFutureNC President and CEO Cecelia Holden. Holden presented myFutureNC’s county data profiles, detailing the western region’s strengths and weaknesses in reaching North Carolina’s educational attainment goal. Following these remarks ncIMPACT Director Anita Brown-Graham led an employer discussion panel that illustrated to attendees the ways in which employers and businesses are working to bridge gaps between workforce and education needs.
Before the main portion of the symposium began, Nicholson pointed the attendees toward the small candies at the center of each table. Each candy symbolized the “Innovations in Action” presentations where presenters offered a small taste of their program to the audience. This fun-sized presentation model allowed attendees to hear from more than twenty nonprofits, education-based businesses, teacher support programs and higher education initiatives across Early Childhood Education, K-12 Education, and Post Secondary.
Blue Ridge Community College Vice President of Student Services Kirsten Bunch presented her program aimed to keep adult learners enrolled in college. The program has utilized personal success coaches to ensure adult students feel included in campus life and are well-equipped technologically.
Jay Korreck and Liz Beck presented on Constructive Learning Design, which has connected teachers, students and businesses to solve local problems. Educational curriculum is applied to real-life issues, instilling students of all ages with the core skill of problem solving.
BCS Learning Labs Workforce Coordinator Caitlin Johnson and Preschool Director Betsie Stockslager presented their preschool program, which is housed within four high schools across Buncombe County Schools (BCS). High schoolers interested in early childhood education are able to gain hands-on experience in a preschool classroom, while also earning school credit through the Career and Technical Education (CTE) program. BCS Learning Labs has acted as a model for combatting the labor shortage amongst early childhood educators, as well as providing on-site childcare to BCS employees.
This is just a small sample of the many innovative ideas and grassroots programs presented at the A3 Education and Workforce Symposium. You can find a full list of the presenters here.
Networking and Learning
As BCS Career Development Coordinator Charles Furlow and Western Carolina University Director of Continuing Education and Workforce Training Roy Kaplan talked during lunch, it was clear that the A3 Symposium was not only a forum for presenting, but an environment for fostering new conversations and connections. The pair shared with each other the challenges they faced in their respective industries and asked each other questions about how those could be best resolved. While operating in different counties, this serendipitous lunch pair was able to offer each other advice and provide insight into how those challenges were being addressed in their respective communities.
“As a new career development coordinator I’m just looking for tools for my toolbox,” said Furlow. “I’m looking for those partnerships, those innovations that are out there, so I can provide more opportunities for my students.”
Kaplan echoed this sentiment, explaining how attending the A3 Symposium allowed him to learn about the workforce and education efforts that are already happening in the region.
“I’m behind very comfortable walls and in a little bubble being in higher education,” said Kaplan. “I’ve just been very impressed with the innovation that is going on across these different industries. That’s motivating to me when I go back to the office.”
Attendees of the inaugural A3 Symposium in Asheville walked away with new ways of enhancing and connecting with education and workforce developments in their own communities. The combination of government officials, university faculty, non-profits, and public school employees in attendance resembled the collaborative efforts that are needed, and are already happening, in Western North Carolina.