At Harrison High School in Harrison, AR, we are committed to ensuring that every graduate leaves our school as one of “the three Es: enrolled, employed, or enlisted.” This approach has led to a series of initiatives that have transformed our approach to education and career readiness.
Like many schools, we hold a college and career fair in the fall, which introduces students to various options—including colleges, universities, military recruiters, and career opportunities—helping them make informed decisions about their future paths. This year, representatives from 56 entities provided information to our students.
But a few years ago, we started hearing concerns from some of our local business and industry partners. They told us their workforces were aging, employees were retiring, and they were in dire need of young, skilled talent to fill the void. Many of these partners were manufacturing companies that had evolved with technology, requiring employees with strong computer skills.
Our town of about 13,000 residents has a thriving business and industry sector, but one reason for the shortage of qualified workers was that our graduates were leaving for job opportunities elsewhere. We needed to bridge that gap between our students and the abundant opportunities in Harrison.
That journey began with an “Evening of Opportunities” in 2019, where we aimed to inform parents and students about the careers and job opportunities available locally. But we realized that to effectively promote these opportunities, we needed a captive audience. So, in 2021, we hosted a “Lunch of Opportunities” to strategically target our seniors before graduation. Manufacturing companies and local businesses set up booths in our gym during lunchtime so students could explore career prospects right after eating. The results were astonishing; many students applied and were hired on the spot.
This initiative has now grown into a “Day of Opportunities,” with businesses setting up booths throughout the day in our school’s arena’s concourse. Interviews take place on the spot. Our local chamber of commerce and our district superintendent have been key in promoting the event and gathering support from local civic organizations.
Some exciting new initiatives have grown from their partnerships. Our agriculture teachers have been certifying about 150 students annually in OSHA training, which gives them a competitive edge in the job market. We also have two dedicated career coaches, who work alongside our counselors in helping students identify their career interests and develop personalized success plans.
This year, we also launched a certified nursing assistant (CAN) class in partnership with North Arkansas College, also located in Harrison. This program is designed to address the growing demand for workers in our local healthcare sector. It will help students gain CNA and EMT certifications, if they want to pursue nursing careers.
Our strong partnership with North Arkansas College also has allowed us to offer a range of college-level courses on our campus, providing our students with a head start in their college education. We currently cover the cost of six college hours per semester for any junior or senior, which can save families substantial tuition expenses.
For fellow principals looking to embrace “the three Es” in their schools, I offer these suggestions:
- Engage with local businesses. Initiate conversations with local businesses and industries to understand their employment and certification needs. Building strong partnerships is key.
- Leverage the chamber of commerce. Collaborate with your local chamber of commerce to establish and nurture relationships with business leaders. They can be invaluable allies in your mission.
- Develop a guiding coalition. You can’t do it alone. Create a team of dedicated individuals within your school to help shape the vision and share the workload.
Our journey continues, and we are excited about the possibilities ahead. We believe that by providing students with choices and opportunities, we are not just shaping their futures but also contributing to the growth and prosperity of our community.