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One Blue Nation – Faculty turns to employers for input (Nov. 19, 2014 issue)

On Election Day the students actually got a day off from school. However, the teachers were still hard at work with professional development that day. For the high school we did something a little different than we normally do for professional development days.
Our day began at the Erwin Town Hall meeting with several industry leaders from our community. The purpose of this meeting was to help our faculty develop a better understanding of what employers look for when hiring individuals into their company. This may seem obvious to many, but for teachers it is a useful perspective to gain.
Remember, many teachers have never worked outside of the education realm, myself included. We want to make sure, as we focus on preparing students to be better workers, that we have a deep understanding of what students will need to be successful in the working world.
The panel discussion was a tremendous success. We had several representatives participate on the panel. If you would allow me, I would like to thank them publicly here. The participating industries were: Impact Plastics, NFS, Erwin Utilities, Unicoi County Memorial Hospital (MSHA), Duraline, Duncan Mechanical and the Town of Erwin. Each group sent a representative to speak to our teachers and discuss several questions we had prepared to help us gain a better understanding of their needs as employers.
The results of the discussion both confirmed and enhanced what many of us in the education world believed already. First and foremost, communication is a vital skill for employees to have. Each industry stressed the importance of employees being able to communicate with one another in order to solve problems and accomplish tasks.
Beyond just communicating, working well with others in collaboration was also noted as a skill essential for successful employees. In our school we focus on teaching students to communicate through class discussion and group work. Much has been made of the shift to the Common Core standards and a vital piece of those standards is communication. Students must be able to articulate their answers, not just give an answer. The explanation is as important as the answer.
An interesting turn in our discussion came when the industry representatives all brought up the point of not just getting a job but keeping a job. The investment they make in an employee is great, and costly. They need employees to be able to maintain their jobs. The two biggest factors in this area: being at work each day and being on time.
Each of these issues is a major concern for us as well. We work every day to get students to class on time. Sometimes students and parents do not understand why we make such a big deal about being to class on time. But this is a real world skill.
Employers expect workers to be there on time. Why should schools be different? Students need to develop good habits now and understand there are consequences for being late. Attendance is key for our students’ learning. If they are not present, they will not learn. If employees are not present at work, they will lose their job. Again, a life skill we spend a great deal of time trying to teach our students.
These were just a couple of issues discussed at our forum last week. We appreciate so much those industries that were able to take part in our panel. Our teachers walked away with a greater understanding of what our students need to be able to do in order to be successful employees in their future. This is just one step for us as a school to improve our work in preparing students for their futures. As we go through the coming weeks I will highlight some other key ideas we learned from our discussion.