Some of the EDC’s most far-reaching successes may be from some of its less visible efforts.
A range of initiatives focusing on education and workforce training are quietly making headway in Clay County and the Northland, building a base of young people who can compete for today’s high-tech and high-paying jobs while making the region more attractive for companies in those industries. While most of the programs saw enrollment declines during Covid, all made progress and are looking toward the 2022-23 year.
The most dramatic example may be the KC Tech Academy, whose development is an EDC Big 4 strategic goal. The center began in Liberty and is currently partnering with the Northland Career Center in Platte City while working toward permanent facilities. Executive Director Kim Palomarez said the partnership between the two educational programs has been positive in several ways.
“It’s been really good for us,” she said. “With the funding so difficult with Covid and everything, that’s really been important.”
Learning On the Job
The KCTA program provides students with real-world learning in areas such as robotics, automation, and electricity. Classes cover both the theory behind these skills and hands-on, practical application. The curriculum is structured by industry and led by a combination of professional educators and subject-matter experts. Launched in 2017, the program now works with every school district in the Northland.
Palomarez said KCTA’s partnerships with area companies is a key to its success. “Our instructor is doing a fantastic job giving them hands-on experience in the lab, and we also have a new apprenticeship program,” she added. “We can always use more business partners, but it’s going very well.”
EDC Past Chair Advisor Tony Reinhart is a longtime supporter of this and other EDC-related education efforts and a KC Tech Academy Board member. Working as Ford Motor Company’s national director of government and community relations, he deals daily with the need for skilled workers to meet workforce demands in areas like advanced manufacturing.
“The idea is to put together educational experiences that are much more hands-on and higher tech than available elsewhere,” Reinhart noted. “It can give these students a leg up because of the actual real-world technology they experience in the lab.”
The results are evident. This year’s graduating class includes students who are scheduled to start work full time this summer, including several going to work at KC Tech business partners where they trained. Others continue training in advanced programs.
KC Tech Academy is only the most recent education-related program involving the EDC. The oldest is the Northland Education and Business Alliance (NEBA), founded by the EDC in 2005. It focused strategically on some of the same workforce issues as the academy but sought to gather information, establish frameworks for progress and, perhaps most of all, promote networking and communication between educators and business leaders.
“We know that partnerships across industries will help serve our communities in education and workforce,” explained NEBA Co-Chair Amy Washam, who serves as director for Northwest Missouri State University – Kansas City. “I hope our efforts in the last year have begun to create pathways for future developments to serve the Northland.”
The organization’s earlier efforts have included CEO Roundtables that dove into issues facing areas like health care or IT, and NEBA-backed career fairs were a major success. During the 2021-22 school year, the group hosted a monthly, online Career Speaker Series on industries ranging from hospitality to health care and marketing.
NEBA’s other Co-Chair Courtney Reyes serves as director of Government Affairs and Workforce Development for the Home Builders Association of Greater Kansas City. She shared that communication and collaboration continue to be critical.
“NEBA Networking is new programming that was introduced this year in order to provide an opportunity for educational stakeholders to visit and learn about businesses in the region,” she said, noting key participants included Omni Life, Nickle and Suede, and The Freeman Team of HomeSmart Legacy, as well as the Clay County EDC. “These were amazing events and provided another avenue for businesses to connect with education.”
The Northland Center for Advanced Professional Studies (Northland CAPS) shares similar goals with both NEBA and KC Tech Academy. High school juniors and seniors apply to the program and, if accepted, enter one of the program “strands” in high-demand, high-skill fields: business, digital media and design, engineering and advanced manufacturing, global business and logistics, medicine and healthcare, and technology solutions.
As with NEBA, the EDC was instrumental in the founding of Northland CAPS 10 years ago this year.
Like the tech academy, CAPS offers Northland high school students the opportunity to work directly in high-tech industries, including job shadowing and internships at participating businesses. Executive Director Brett Kisker says these efforts benefit everyone involved.
“There’s not a single person in the business world who would say we have all the talent we need,” Kisker said. “Meanwhile, you have 19,000 high school students in Clay and Platte counties, and many may not know where they fit in. This gets them started down the right road.”
Kisker cited a major benefit that illustrates much of the work. “We had 150 students in health care this year,” he explained. “At the beginning of the year, we asked them what they wanted to be and most answered with the typical ‘doctor’ or ‘nurse.’ Now, they’re aware of the hundreds of departments at North Kansas City Hospital and Liberty Hospital, each with unique career opportunities. Unless they get a chance to see that, there’s no way for students to understand all of those choices. But once they see that, they can see what would be a good fit for them.”
The Human Touch, Too
Not all the lessons these programs teach are technical, including so-called soft skills like human interaction. “We do it through the students’ interaction with business professionals,” Kisker said. “For example, you can practice interviewing in the classroom all you want, but it’s different in an office with the CEO of a corporation.”
“These programs are just a win-win,” said EDC Executive Director David Slater. “They help our students, and they help grow businesses in Clay County and the Northland. That’s hard to beat!”