Preparing graduates for the workforce
It takes a village to ensure our youth get on the right path after high school. At least that’s the idea behind the La Porte Community School Corporation’s Hire a Slicer (www.hireaslicer.com) program and website. Through partnerships with local entities like the Greater La Porte Chamber of Commerce and the Greater La Porte Economic Development Corporation (GLEDC), their mission is to strengthen the connection between recently graduated seniors and the local business community. The goal is to prepare La Porte High School graduates (“Slicers”) for the many challenges of college and careers.
A shot in the arm
Superintendent Mark Francesconi has been in the district for seven years and has served for four years in his current role. He says during his tenure the district has focused on engaging the local community because that’s where the greatest need lies. Case in point: The results of a workforce task force led by the chamber indicated areas for improvement when it comes to access to quality talent. Jobs are open, but they have trouble filling them with qualified individuals. In his words, the Hire a Slicer initiative is a “shot in the arm” for the area.
“Basically, what we’re trying to do is align local efforts with workforce and graduation pathways,” he says. “We’re looking from within to develop a process to engage businesses.”
Francesconi says the program, which has evolved over the last year or so, is the brainchild of La Porte High School teacher Matt Presley. The educator was named Workforce Teacher of the Year in 2015 by the chamber. As part of the award, he was presented with two checks¾$500 for the program and $500 for him personally. Presley opted to donate the entire $1,000 gift to develop the Hire a Slicer website.
Forming soft skills
But what stake does Presley, an English teacher, have in economic development? It turns out there’s more than meets the eye.
“Hire A Slicer gives students the opportunity to prepare resumes for a real audience,” Presley says. “It provides them with a direct link to meaningful employment in our community. Likewise, it allows employers to connect with Slicer seniors and alumni. This service strengthens the connection between our school and our business community, and it fills jobs.”
The strategic focus is what makes Hire a Slicer unique. Francesconi says while many employers are looking for technical skills, soft skills are harder to come by these days. That’s why it’s never too early to impart these skills to students, as Presley does in his classroom, while also pulling in experiences from the outside world. Through his class, students work in the community through mentorships based on their career interest.
“Not only do we talk about workplace skills, but I ask my students to demonstrate them
through their experiences,” says Presley. “My class ends with students giving a presentation to a panel of community members. Again, these presentations reinforce the workplace skills instruction I do in the classroom and help to build my students’ confidence as they enter the workforce.”
According to Francesconi, Presley has been instrumental in preparing students for next steps, while also interfacing with employers to get the most out of the website. Today, the site functions as both a job board and a way for students to showcase their resumes, while addressing a larger issue, meeting future state requirements.
As Presley notes, new graduation pathways for the state of Indiana, that will affect the graduating class of 2023, will require schools to track student progress through their chosen career pathway. He says among the requirements, students must learn and demonstrate work-readiness skills while pursuing a service or work-based learning experience. “Hire A Slicer can be an effective and essential part of this process,” he says.
That may be the near future, but Francesconi has his eyes on the past and present, too. He says the school system has already experienced success stories. Those include students pursuing internships, securing guest speakers from local companies, and coordinating teacher visits to worksites so they can better understand the demands of 21st century jobs.
There have been other wins, too, in the form of relationship building. “We’ve had some businesses that we had little engagement with (prior) that hired students for internships or full-time positions,” he says.
Looking to the future, Francesconi says he’s extremely pleased with the collaboration of the school system and its partners to produce a more qualified and appealing workforce. He also expressed excitement about the recent formal launch of the Hire a Slicer website, with the program’s partners.