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NEBA Examines Strategies for Long-Term Workforce Development

July 2021

Members of the Northland Education and Business Alliance took an in-depth look at what both sides of their membership need in order to improve workforce development in the region.

The July 13th meeting was both a strategy session and a focus on what’s needed for programs NEBA might present during the 2021-22 school year. The group heard from both business and education leaders who discussed ways to achieve better communication in order to better prepare high school graduates for work.

“We wanted this to be more gathering feedback,” Co-chair Amy Washam noted. “We want to make sure we keep everyone engaged and ensure that we’re going in the right direction.”

Jerry Hickey, owner of an employment agency, said he has seen some successes from NEBA’s efforts, which included years of industry roundtables, career fairs and more. He noted some eighth-grade students in the North Kansas City district recently showed surprising knowledge of career options and opportunities. “It’s really amazing that they’re getting career-based information in the eighth grade,” he said. ”In the Northland, there is discussion of what type of education is required for our graduating high school students to have so they can have productive lives.”

Increasing Options

Such productive lives don’t necessarily mean going to a four-year college. While students and parents are increasingly aware of this, more need to know the many opportunities that exist in the Northland.

The group noted other key issues that need to be addressed. Especially now, companies are so busy trying to hire people, they don’t have time to think of what the region needs four or five years from now.

“NEBA is one of the few organizations doing that,” one member noted.

Other topics included the potential for in-person meetings: large, single events like career fairs versus readily available resources like video libraries and identifying any other industries that should be included but have not been. Most NEBA events have focused on the areas of advanced manufacturing, health care, information technology and hospitality/entertainment. Another challenge is balancing business workforce needs on one hand and school requirements on the other.

Expanded Potential

Still another issue involves helping students become aware of just how broad a range of opportunities are there for them to pursue. “The challenge is that kids look at careers and don’t think it’s for them,” EDC Executive Director David Slater noted, citing several examples. “We need female engineers and female mathematicians. We need to reach communities of color. There’s a lot to be done.”

Others noted that regardless of industry, students also need to become more aware of the importance of “soft skills.” “What we really need to offer is not just a career path, but what makes a successful person in any career,” Hickey added. “They need to learn the importance of attendance and how to be a team player. If you don’t have the right attitude, employers aren’t going to keep you around. And those are not side issues. That’s fundamental.”

NEBA’s next meeting will be Aug. 3.


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