Rushville Republican

September 17, 2013

New partnership to benefit area youth

By Paul W. Barada Rushville Republican
Rushville Republican

---- — Less than a month ago, a group of key community stakeholders met to begin the process of building a new partnership between the private sector and public education in Rush County. Involved in the initial meeting were representatives from both the city and county, the Chamber of Commerce, the ECDC, and Rush County Schools. I can’t recall when I’ve been as optimistic about a positive outcome as I am about this coalition of organizations.

The basic idea is to help high school students become more aware of real world employer expectations, including things like hard skills, educational requirements, and what are often called, somewhat mysteriously, soft skills. According to Wikipedia, the online encyclopedia, “Soft skills are personal attributes that enhance an individual’s interactions, job performance, and career prospects. Unlike hard skills, which are about a person’s skill set and ability to perform a certain type of task or activity, soft skills relate to a person’s ability to interact effectively with coworkers and customers and are broadly applicable both in and outside the workplace.”

I would also include additional soft skills that many young job seekers lack: things like showing up for work on time, expecting to do a full day’s work for a full day’s pay, and not missing work unnecessarily. Also my expanded definition of soft skills includes interviewing skills, communication skills, and the innate desire to succeed – no matter what the task may be.

In my opinion, over the years there has been a disconnect between the private sector and public education. Not that either has been unaware of the other, but to the extent that there has been little interaction between the two in any ongoing way.

The scope of the interaction that’s possible is limited only by the imagination of the stakeholders with regard to what can be accomplished. Some job shadowing has gone on between Rush Memorial Hospital and the high school, which is great, but more job shadowing needs to take place for more high school students to really get a good idea of what a manufacturing manager, for example, does on a daily basis and understand what it takes to become a manufacturing manager in the first place.

Years ago, when a local company decided to hire summer employees it was felt that two goals could be accomplished. The first was to fill in for the full-time employees, who wanted to go on vacation. The second was to give young people a very good idea of why they were going to college. For example, most of the jobs were both difficult and physically demanding. More than one summer employee said, at the time, “Boy, I understand why my folks want me to go to college now. I can’t imagine doing that type of work for 30 years!”

What’s contemplated with this new partnership between the private sector and public education could include things like inviting, let’s say, the financial manager from a local business to talk to students about the level of education required to do the job and what responsibilities and rewards come with the job of being a financial manager.

My hope is that one of the benefits that will come from this new partnership is a useful insight for students on various salaried jobs that are available right here in Rush County – everything from healthcare to banking and every other salaried occupation in between.

On the other side of the coin, another idea that might come from this exercise is making it possible for members of the high school faculty to see how what they are teaching translates into real world job skills. For example, how does the study of, let’s say, geometry figure into the job requirements of an engineer? Or, why are effective communication skills important to a personnel manager’s job requirements? Once upon a time, the school board itself made a trip to a local facility to see how miniaturized robotics was being used on a daily basis. The technology was pretty advanced at the time, and few on the school board had any idea that it was happening right here in Rush County. During the tour, the question was asked about how much training it took to handle a computer-operated piece of miniaturized robotic equipment. The answer? “Oh, not too much. A couple of years of college at least, though.” Most of the members of the school board had no idea that local plants were doing that type of work or the level of training needed to handle the jobs being done.

So, this new initiative to build the bridge between the private sector and public education is an exciting undertaking, not just in terms of the potential benefit for our young people, but also for faculty and administrators. Who knows what innovative proposals will come from the new task force created to begin building that partnership between the private sector and public education?

Long gone are the days when each of the participating groups operated in a vacuum, not knowing what any of the other stakeholders in this community were doing. If Rush County is going to not only survive and thrive, but also most importantly, to grow, this new initiative may very well be the catalyst to make it happen.

That’s -30- for this week.