Searcy: Programs Take Surprise Out Of Students' Job Search (Workforce Development | Winner 20,000+)

Arriving to a job on time should be a simple task for high school students in White County.

But some students strolled in late. And that was only one frustration business owners faced in dealing with high school students in the city of just under 23,000.

Business owners wanted to pull their hair out over juniors and seniors who had trouble completing a job application or possessed poor communication skills.

“So many of our students are really not aware of what’s necessary to be considered a viable candidate to go to work,” said Buck Layne, president of the Searcy Regional Chamber of Commerce.

The Searcy Regional Chamber of Commerce Workforce Development Committee wanted to change that and prepare students for the working life, Layne said.

The committee teamed up with the Searcy School District and business leaders to develop a series of programs for 10th-, 11th- and 12th-grade students to “provide real work-based learning opportunities for students to obtain the requisite workplace knowledge and skills while in high school,” Layne said.

The initiatives will “ensure that [students] are prepared for productive careers, and will ensure that they are successful beyond high school.”

The program has earned Searcy recognition as a 2012 Arkansas Business City of Distinction winner for workforce development.

The committee worked with member Carol Bailey, who also is the workplace readiness and internship teacher at Searcy High School, to develop the agenda about four years ago.

The committee created programs and seminars that focus on preparing students for jobs.

One program has business owners or managers talking to students to tell them what’s expected at a job, Layne said.

One restaurant manager told “the students that if you get here 10 minutes early, you’re late,” Layne said. “It was surprising for many of the students that there was a deadline. … And there weren’t any excuses.”

Students also didn’t realize that many jobs require a drug test before hiring, Layne said.

But Layne said the students like the frank talk from business owners.

Another benefit of the program is that business owners and managers get to know the students and will continue to help them with their goals through high school.

Other seminar topics included customer service and student accountability.

“If an employer is going to take a chance on you, you need to respect them and be willing to fulfill your commitment to that employer,” Layne said.

The committee also arranged for the North Central chapter of the Society of Human Resource Management to conduct mock interviews for high school seniors in the Searcy area. Students were coached on how to dress and prepare for an interview.

Layne said that might be considered basic information to some people, “but it’s not basic, if you don’t know it.”

The committee and Bailey developed a job shadowing program for the students and local businesses. The job shadowing varies from a day to a week or so, he said. So far, 56 businesses are participating in the volunteer program.

These programs “will assist area students to succeed in the workplace by brokering work-based learning opportunities,” Layne said.

Layne said the committee will conduct periodic surveys to assess the program and make adjustments “to meet the changing needs of the workplace and to best meet the career interests of our high school students.”

So far, teacher, employer and student comments have been positive, Layne said. and several hundred students have attended the development programs.

“I think it’s prepared our workforce to actually go into the workplace,” Layne said. “The programs are necessary for every community.”