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WNC Business

Facilitating connections between educators and career awareness for students

Jul 04, 2023 11:11AM ● By Randee Brown

Celebrating its 40th anniversary in 2023, the North Carolina Business Committee for Education is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization focused on making connections between education systems and employers within a variety of industries. 

Executive Director Caroline Sullivan said the NCBCE works mostly with public and public charter schools and at a high level with the state’s community college system. NCBCE, with the help of Fidelity Investments, created a Navigator platform for educators across the state providing employer-posted career spotlights, guest speakers, engaging activities, and early career awareness, making it easier for teachers to connect to employers.

“This works as a super-connector in cities,” Sullivan said. “We can work across different systems and see how things fit, better connecting educators and classroom learning to career pathways.”

Career awareness programs begin with students as early as 5th grade via a program called Students@Work. This program allows students to visit business environments, either virtually or in person, to learn about the variety of career paths available in different industries. 

According to Sullivan, it is important to start with middle school grades because that is when students begin making their own academic decisions. Choices such as which math class to take will affect other choices, and students need specific math classes for certain STEM programs as they move into those types of careers.

One impactful story Sullivan said she heard was during an agriculture session at a middle school conference. An owner of a dog food company discussed the elements that go into dog food production, relating the processes to the importance of math. She heard him say, “If I measure out an ingredient and the decimal point is in the wrong place, I just killed my dog.” She said stories like this reinforce the importance of math in real-life applications for students.

Deputy Director Morgan Crawford said it is statistically proven that middle school-aged girls often lose interest in STEM aspects, and it is important to keep that interest rolling.

“Early exposure to a variety of careers can create an understanding of the layers in industries,” Crawford said. “There are new careers being created all the time, some spinoffs of others, and spawning different interests early is crucial.”

Sullivan said employers are also realizing the importance of growing talent while kids are still in school instead of waiting until graduation. She quoted Secretary of Commerce Machelle Baker Sanders when she said employers have to tell their story earlier because people won’t know about it otherwise.

“Without employers telling their story, we will be at a huge disadvantage,” Sullivan said. “With the speed of change and innovation, it’s critical for professionals in the private sector to volunteer to talk to students as subject matter experts. Textbooks take a long time to catch up, and professionals can share concepts that interest students that don’t yet exist in textbooks.”

NCBCE also provides several opportunities for professional development. “Professional development for teachers is huge,” Sullivan said. “This helps teachers get excited about things in the classroom, working with others, and sharing ideas. You can hear the excitement in their voices when they participate in these programs.”

Crawford said though there is no direct measurement, she would like to think professional development and other ways to participate and receive support relating directly to your field of interest make educators more likely to stay in their field.

Before the pandemic, NCBCE held middle school conferences hosting teachers from all districts in NC, providing an engaging day of learning and information for teachers to take directly back to the classroom. Crawford said these chances for connection and networking can make a big difference in teachers’ mindsets, as teaching can feel sort of isolating.

“Though you’re in a school full of people, it’s just a teacher and the students,” Crawford said. “There’s not a lot of time for networking. Schedules can be tough, and networking and professional development provide opportunities to brainstorm, share best practices, and get excited about what you are doing. This is beneficial in any job and can make for a better overall experience.”

Crawford and Sullivan agree that the more positivity there is in a job, the more willingness there is to stay in that job. They said this is why the organization compiles these direct resources across a variety of platforms to encourage connections, expand career exposure, and create more engagement with the community as a whole.