We at the Greater Vancouver Chamber of Commerce (GVCC), Southwest Washington’s largest business organization with 1,100 member businesses, believe business needs to be actively involved in addressing the shortage of skilled workers especially at our STEM-related employers. With that in mind, the GVCC is launching a new four-part series this month called techCONNECT, designed to help high school students discover and realize their employment potential in STEM fields.
Fortunately, we are not alone in our efforts. The Southwest Washington STEM Network, as well as local businesses (dependent on a workforce skilled in STEM fields), are all coming together for this series to introduce high school students to the variety of jobs requiring STEM skills.
Complementing the career learning programs already underway through nConnect and Workforce SW Washington, techCONNECT is yet another component of this strong workforce development strategy in the region. The difference techCONNECT brings is providing a worksite learning option for students. These STEM students, selected by the STEM Network, will have the opportunity to observe STEM careers at the workplace, giving students knowledge and awareness of how they can apply their STEM coursework. Our first visit will be in February at Webfor as Kevin Getch and his team welcome students identified at the VPS Computer Sciences week in December.
Assuring our students are work-ready is not solely the responsibility of our school districts, colleges and universities. As employers we need to be a part of the solution; we need to be creating opportunities for students to visit our workplaces; we need to be creating internships and mentorships so our students can see firsthand how their classes translate to the workplace and why it is important for them to continue their STEM studies.
We hear loud and clear from employers of the need for soft skills in addition to STEM-specific related skills. Employees today in all fields need to understand teamwork, problem solving and have strong interpersonal communication skills. For that reason, techCONNECT will also provide students with and introduction to networking (courtesy of Ronnie Noise of DIY Marketing) prior to their workplace visits so they understand how to make the most of their visit.
The Chamber’s new techCONNECT series will provide an opportunity for students to meet the owner of a STEM business and hear his or her story about the company. Then they will have the chance to hear and visit with employees. It is our hope that students will begin to get an understanding not only of how they can apply what they are learning, but also what it takes to start, operate and grow a business.
The techCONNECT series is designed to introduce our students to high-demand career pathways, spark personal interest and above all connect them to business and industry here in our community. Supporting students in discovering and realizing their potential through partnerships in the local community is essential to growing a strong workforce, especially for high demand STEM jobs.
Chandra Chase is the communications director for the Greater Vancouver Chamber of Commerce.