Building school-community connections is a boon for workforce development
More than a year after being deployed into Mississippi high schools, AccelerateMS career coaches are proving that students make better choices about the future when they have more individualized support, control, and, more connections—all of which benefit workforce development in Mississippi.
“Bringing in more coaches has generated a lot of excitement,” said Lori Nail, AccelerateMS youth programs manager. “They’re building connections between schools and communities and making sure more students graduate with a career plan in place, often with the support of local employers who need skilled workers. And we’re expecting even greater outcomes in the future.”
In partnership with regional development organizations, AccelerateMS has placed 176 career coaches in 115 school districts across Mississippi.
One aspect of the job that makes it unique is community focus. Career coaches network with business and industry leaders, who in turn offer internships, part-time jobs, and mentoring and job-shadowing programs for students. In some areas, employers have partnered with schools to develop skill-specific training and scholarship programs for students who are interested in hiring on after graduation.
Parents also are included in their outreach. Because parental and family support are key to student success, career coaches make sure they’re part of the conversation by raising awareness of career opportunities and resources to help students achieve their post-graduation goals.
“Coaches have the flexibility to tailor their programs in a way that best serves their schools and communities,” Nail said. “They’re connecting students with meaningful, work-based learning opportunities and making them excited about options available to them after they graduate. There are multiple success stories about students who were saved from dropping out because of a career coach. As an educator, that’s one of the most powerful things we can do.”
While career coaches are available to assist all high school students, they focus on seniors who don’t have post-graduation plans. Coaches help them set goals for the future and identify steps to achieve them, whether it’s continuing their education, entering the workforce, enlisting in the military, or a combination of options.
For students who are interested in continuing their education, career coaches highlight scholarships, financial aid, work-study programs and other resources that can make college more affordable. Nail noted that career coaches have been credited for an increase in federal student aid applications completed in Mississippi last year.
AccelerateMS tracks a variety of data points to measure career coaching impacts, such as one-on-one student conversations, parent meetings, business and industry field trips, and college and job applications. They also track students’ preferred career pathways. Currently, health care professions are in the lead, which is a target workforce sector for Mississippi.
Looking ahead, career coaches are focused on driving growth in more targeted sectors to serve Mississippi’s skilled workforce needs, such as advanced manufacturing, information technology, energy, transportation logistics, supply chain and construction.
In some districts, career coaches have extended their reach to junior high and even elementary grades to introduce career concepts to younger students.
AccelerateMS recently launched a new website dedicated to career coaching that includes stories from across Mississippi about the positive impact coaches are making in students’ lives and futures. It also has information on how to become a career coach.
“Now that career coaches have had time to get established, their role in the community is better understood and supported,” Nail said. “They understand that workforce development is a team effort that requires students, families, educators and community leaders to get on the same page. They’re making sure our students are first in line for the best jobs and career pathways in Mississippi.”
AccelerateMS serves the people and businesses of Mississippi by developing and deploying workforce strategies to connect individuals with transformative, high-paying careers. By leveraging resources and partnering with organizations that hold complementary missions, AccelerateMS effectuates positive change, creating sustained individual, community and statewide economic prosperity.
Learn more at www.coaches.acceleratems.org/.