No Limits No Excuses: How was Workforce Solutions originally involved in NLNE?
Workforce Solutions: We became involved with the original Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation grant application. There was an invitation to the Panhandle Regional Planning Commission, and then that invitation eventually came our way too. We were also involved with Panhandle Twenty/20 which initiated a lot of the relationships. Gary Pitner thought that after the initial process for the Gates grant, Workforce would be a natural partner, and here we are.
NLNE: What has kept Workforce Solutions involved in this process for the 5+ years?
WS: We have been asked to play a very important role in this initiative, and that always brings us back to the table. If you’re asked to just show up to meetings and occasionally participate, then you might just fade away, but we have been asked to be an important player. We have been asked to build a lot of the structure and the documentation for the success plan. We were very invested in that process. NLNE fits what we’re trying to accomplish as an organization. What we want for our employers and job seekers is to fit each other’s needs. The idea to train students in a future workforce just dovetails into what we’re trying to accomplish already. This work is what we would be doing, a lot smaller scale, but because of the players, resources, and relationships, it’s getting done faster and more effectively. We also stay involved because we see progress. We see things happening. We are seeing the needle move, and we are optimistic that we are going to continue to see this happen. We signed on to a project that had a 15-year lifespan, and we did that intentionally.
NLNE: How has the partnership increased your relationships with other institutions.
WS: We are part of the conversation a lot earlier in the lives of students than we have been previously. We were having to deal with students however they came to us, now we are getting to influence the discussion earlier. We have a stronger voice in the school district than we did a few years ago. We are getting to be the voice of the employer and speak for them to the educational system. We have had a lot of events and the relationships within the partnership have made those events even more successful. A good example is what we have put a lot of emphasis on which we call career fairs or career exploration events. Those events are much easier to build with the relationships we have with AISD. Amarillo College accomplishes outcomes with all of use working together. Another great example is the Career Explorer videos that we created. We already had intentions of creating videos to highlight in-demand occupations. Allowing No Limits No Excuses to be the marketing piece so thousands of students will view these videos, that has really allowed us to leverage our work to an even greater scale. We have always had these relationships, but inside NLNE, it’s intensified and they trust us and value us because we are on the same page.
NLNE: What changes in culture in regard to universal achievement have you seen in our area?
WS: I receive tweets from my children’s high school all the time. They are sending information about deadlines for scholarship and FAFSA. About two months ago, the counselor sent a tweet about the apprenticeship opportunities for the electrical apprenticeship program. I thought to myself, “we’ve made some progress.” I am totally impressed that we are now acknowledging at the high school level that an apprenticeship program is equivalent to a college scholarship. Educators are now understanding that career and technical education is just as valuable as a four-year degree, and we’ve come a long way when that’s the reality. It was a milestone in my mind.
NLNE: What role does Workforce Solutions play inside the NLNE partnership
WS: We understand that we have a long-term goal of investing in the success plan and we are looking at a 15-year project. Our role is to continue the course and still accomplish the parts that need to happen. There are a lot of specific activities that we need to continue accomplishing, like our career fairs and the continuation of the career spotlight videos. We need to provide resources to continue those.
NLNE: What does the future of postsecondary education and workforce look like for our area?
WS: I hope our future workforce looks at what jobs are going to pay, and what jobs are in demand and then decides on an educational pathway that gets them to a productive end. A more informed educational pathway is the short answer.
NLNE: What impact has NLNE had on your organization physically or culturally?
WS: Postsecondary education is part of our culture at Workforce Solutions. Given the mix of federal and state programs, it already exists part of our organization. I think the Career Explorer videos are really a quality product that we may not have invested as much time and energy into if we didn’t realize how they were going to be promoted and utilized with NLNE. Our willingness to dedicate staff time and funds was based on the knowledge that it was going to be fully utilized with NLNE’s help. We are also having bigger and better career fairs and we are looking for an even bigger event next year.
NLNE: What impact has NLNE had on the community?
WS: I value what AISD, Amarillo College, and the other partners do to really address the needs of the student. When I shop at the grocery store and ask my sacker what his plan is, and I was sharing the story with friend and they had the same sacker because the stories matched up perfectly. We were very impressed with what the young man shared in his very detailed plan.
NLNE: How would you characterize success for NLNE
WS: I think success looks like the very high-level financial aid and FAFSA applications we have seen. That then must translate to attendance at your community colleges and universities. For me I would characterize success when there is a waiting list to get into the career and technical programs in our area. When there is more interest in those areas than we have capacity for, that is success in my mind.
NLNE: Is there anything else you’d like to share about Workforce Solutions and NLNE?
We have asked the community to give a lot of resources to help this initiative over a long period of time. I hope that when we get to 2025, this initiative is going to change the culture of our community. We want to prove to those that invested in NLNE that it was a good investment.