Education initiative targets students at early age for workforce development


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NCEastAllianceLogoPLYMOUTH – At the Friday, April 10 meeting of the NC East Alliance, guests met Dr. Steve Hill who is spearheading the economic development group’s ‘STEM East’ education initiative in 13 counties. STEM is an acronym used by educators to describe a curriculum encompassing Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics.

Hill is a former teacher, principal, and office administrator, plus he has numerous degrees in various fields – certainly qualified to grow the STEM East Education Program. One element uses concepts from the ‘farm system’ of Major League Baseball to begin the training of children for high-tech jobs as early as middle schools.

Later, when they finish high school and enter college, these young people will be well on their way to being prepared for available high-tech jobs.

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The program – seen as a transformational opportunity — began with a $750,000 grant serving middle schools in five counties. The goal is to groom future employees for industries that have had historic trouble in filling high-tech jobs.

At the meeting in Plymouth, Hill laid out where the program has been, where it is now and where it is going. This reporter was extremely impressed and, from the reaction in the audience, others were too!

Skilled labor consistently ranks as the #1 consideration of expanding or relocating companies. The STEM East group has partnered with several entities to combat the skilled worker shortfall and fill the pipeline with well–qualified talent. The comprehensive approach to workforce development has garnered attention from across the country for its level of collaboration and responsiveness to employer’s needs.

Another challenge is having employees who are ‘ready to work.’ Perhaps no program in the region has been more beneficial to employers than the Work Keys Job Profiling matched with Career Readiness Certificates to ensure workers have the correct job-specific foundational skills to begin their on-the-job training and higher level skill development. According to John Chaffee, President of NC East Alliance, more than 150 companies now utilize the Career Readiness Certificates in their employment practices and nearly 50,000 people now possess such a Certificate – almost 11 percent of the regional labor force!

With additional support from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Golden Leaf, and private companies, STEM East built upon the success of the CRC and similar programs through a public/private network that supports the entire education and workforce development pipeline.

Although STEMEast is a young program, early results have been dramatic with five STEM centers for school districts, a 10 to 20 percent increase in pass rates on science exams, and a whopping 850 percent increase in regional Kenan Fellowships (placing teachers in company internships and development programs). Students taking algebra within STEM Centers have increased more than 100 percent. To date, the nationally acclaimed STEN East has assisted six counties, securing more than $4.5 million to support 45 STEM Learning Centers by 2016.

Reporter’s note: Craven County has participated in this educational opportunity, practically from the beginning. But, school systems in areas such as Pasquotank County have not participated, including all the other Northeastern Counties. The local school board has opposed charter and STEM school development. However, a STEM school now seems to be on the horizon. John Chaffee, president of NC East Alliance has conferred with Economic Development Coordinator, Wayne Harris, and those familiar with the process predict steady progress