Developing a pipeline of talent is top priority for all economic developers. In recent years, more innovative ways of developing talent in local regions have emerged, most of them focused on bridging the gap between local students and industries. And in between those two groups of people stands the fundamental link to bright futures for both kids and companies- teachers and parents.
"It became clear that our teachers didn't have an understanding about what local industries would need as far as skills or just how to talk to their students about careers in the local workforce," explains Serra Hall of the Covington/Newton Economic Development Office. "There was a training gap there that we realized needed to be addressed. What's it like to prepare a student to become an Operations Manager at General Mills? Or a quality assurance specialist at Takeda? It's not all about the few kids going to Harvard. We need to be prepared to send all our students into the world prepared for great careers. But how could teachers, who are already focused on lofty curriculum requirements, keep up with the industry trends happening in their own backyards? That's why Connect Newton was created."
For students, having a teacher isn't just about taking notes and getting grades- it's about seeking guidance. Connect Newton wants to give those teachers the experience and first-hand knowledge they need to guide each kid toward good decisions about college and careers. Teachers apply for the week-long program that takes places during the summer. "The first year we did this, we had 12 teachers and three companies. This year we had 24 teachers and five companies," Serra explains. The business leaders and teachers take a deep dive into the content - how to talk about the careers, what the opportunities are, how to identify traits in students that might make them a good fit for a certain role, and vice versa. "It's equally about the kids finding the right pathway and finding something that suits their skills and talents and about providing a self-service workforce in our community," says Serra. "It's a win-win situation." The companies that have participated so far range from biotechnology to manufacturing to infrastructure and include Takeda, General Mills, SRG Global, Martin Marietta and Clairon Metals.
The feedback from the teachers has been positive. "We've heard 'eye-opening' and 'amazing'," Serra adds. "Some of the teachers have said that they've lived their whole lives in our community and did not know what these local companies were doing or how they operated. And for the industry leaders, it's a great chance for them to see the other side of things and to start really thinking about talent development from a younger age with these students."
"We believe that this is the future of workforce," says Serra. Connect Newton is growing. Walton County had their first class last year, and now other counties are interested in expanding the program. For Connect Newton and many other programs around the state like it, workforce development is much more than a one-day field trip. It's about truly connecting all the pieces that make a community prosper.