By: Sean Alford, Ph.D.
Traditionally, we have embraced a standard of college acceptance as the primary definition. For a moment, consider two students – Terry and Toni. Both were past students of mine. Solid students academically, single-parent home, a mother who battled issues and factors that would have her go missing for days at a time. Our school family surrounded Terry and Toni. Fortunately, we supported them through their successful completion of high school. Terry enlisted directly into the military and became a top-rated deep-water diver in his service branch. He would come back, smartly dressed in his uniform to provide updates on his travels and accomplishments. After graduation, we never heard from Toni. Seventeen years after graduation, I received a phone call at work – and to my surprise, it was Toni. She shared that she had moved to another state, that she owned her own home, had never married, had no children and she was most proud of her pending graduation from an Ivy League institution with a graduate degree in Nursing. Terry and Toni did not receive acceptance letters in their mailbox as seniors, but both have experienced post-secondary success.
As community members, we share the responsibility of securing a viable community. There is no greater manifestation of this responsibility than the preparation of a capable workforce. The Aiken County Public School District strives to produce competent graduates who will be solutions to our community’s workforce needs and challenges. We are connected through this solution-driven mission and the future success of our stakeholders depends heavily upon our ability to work collaboratively.
Aiken Works is an initiative that is designed to foster cooperative action. Action to support workforce development. Action that results in educated stakeholders, those who are aware of our local economy’s needs and opportunities. Over the past twelve months, we’ve worked to lead a coalition of community stakeholders in a campaign to emphasize our collective goals.
- We want every student to graduate with a set of employable skills.
- We want students and families to recognize and pursue multiple pathways to post-secondary success.
- We want parents, students and counselors to know the employment opportunities available in our county.
- Finally, we must broadcast the immediate needs of local businesses in the high-demand areas of technology, health science, energy, and industrial manufacturing.
The prior points resonate with many community members I am sure. We have attended the same meetings, listened to the same presentations, and shivered at the warnings of the pending “Silver Tsunami.” Although we share a great concern in “where is the future workforce coming from?” we have failed in bridging our challenge to a vital intersection –the family dinner table. Until the comprehensive community understands and can articulate our future workforce challenges and opportunities, our efforts to prepare a solution-driven workforce will not succeed.
We are a learning organization. Education is our core mission. Through Aiken Works, we will saturate our community with life-altering information. We will empower and equip students, parents and school counselors with the great tool of “choice.” Today, we are asking Aiken County residents and job creators to:
- Help us educate our community.
- Help us rally stakeholders in support of viable and connected workforce development initiatives.
- Help us get our students learning and earning.
- Help us build a bridge to the dinner tables across our county so that we can streamline our resources and address our future workforce demands.
Remember the examples set by my former students, Terry and Toni. Despite not having received a college acceptance letter as seniors, their stories of success are proof positive that given meaningful support, encouragement, access to vital information and emerging opportunities, our students can and will rise to become solution-driven answers to the most important workforce needs of our community.