Krychelle Smith told 89 students gathered at Anniston High School on Friday that the job-shadowing program they’d signed up for had one major benefit: The teenagers would learn a lot about the careers they aspired to before they would spend loads of money on a college degree.
“I think it’s really eye-opening for them,” Smith said after speaking with the students at the Anniston Performing Arts Center Friday morning.
Smith is programs director for the Calhoun County Chamber of Commerce, which puts on the job-shadowing program.
She said participation has grown sharply; organizers normally see around 40 students. The chamber also has expanded the program from an annual one to twice a year.
That growth comes as officials throughout Calhoun County and Alabama work to give high school students hands-on, industry-specific skills that employers will search for in the years to come.
Don Hopper, executive director of Calhoun County Economic Development Council, said a skilled workforce often tops the list of items industries look at when considering areas to locate; communities that put emphasis on career readiness programs like job-shadowing often set themselves apart from the competition.
Hopper also pointed to the chamber’s Worlds of Work career expo, a type of job fair that has students doing hand-on activities that relate to specific industries.
One of the biggest benefits of those programs, Hopper said, is simply that young people are able to see all the careers available to them in the community.
The focus toward career-specific training can be seen in local schools, too.
Piedmont City Schools in 2015 started their Apprenticeship and Career Training Initiative, which supports on-the-job training for students in the fields of health, computer repair and welding.
Anniston City Schools in 2015 revamped a culinary arts program that now prepares students for work in commercial kitchens.
Jacqueline Allen is the public information officer for Alabama Industrial Development Training, an agency that encourages economic development through job-specific training.
“We're always going to be supportive of job shadowing, internships and apprenticeships,” she said.
Job shadowing programs also expose students to basic skills such as showing up on time and wearing appropriate clothing. Allen said it’s those fundamental skills that many employers find the most valuable.
Allen said AIDT officials hope to integrate the Apprenticeship Alabama program into high schools throughout the state. Launched by the Alabama Department of Commerce in January 2017, the program offers tax credits to companies that hire qualified apprentices who receive classroom or industry-specific instruction and on-the-job training.
Back at Anniston High on Friday morning, Pleasant Valley High School senior Jeremy Pruitt was set to meet with a local pharmacist as his shadowee.
Pruitt said he’s interested in the compounding and pharmacological aspects of the field, having become attracted to pharmacy as a career path after taking Randy Jackson’s class at Pleasant Valley.
“We really have the best chemistry and physics teacher in the state,” Pruitt said of Jackson.
Smith, the programs director for the chamber, said the job shadowing program benefits local businesses as much as it does students.
“They want employees who are going to come in and be ready for that job,” she said.