Students in Rutherford County Schools and Murfreesboro City Schools do not need to wait until high school to begin exploring career possibilities. Students in fourth, fifth, and sixth grades can participate in ACE (After-school Career Exploration), an after-school program coordinated by the Rutherford County Chamber of Commerce that educates students about high demand occupations and postsecondary opportunities.

ToolboxUtilizing Junior Achievement’s “It’s My Future” curriculum, volunteers from local businesses and non-profits meet with groups of students once a month for six months to help them learn about different career clusters, career mapping, and job search skills. Other components of ACE include industry speakers and field trips. The industries highlighted during 2014-15 were IT, STEM, Hospitality and Tourism, Health Sciences, Business/Marketing/Entrepreneurship, and Arts and Audio Visual.

By eighth grade, students need to be thinking about which courses they will take in high school. The State of Tennessee requires all high school students to complete at least three credits in a career and technical education (CTE) pathway. (Alternatively, students can complete three credits in ROTC, Fine Arts, or Advanced Placement courses.) Choosing a CTE pathway can be difficult, so Rutherford County schools hold Career Pathway Fairs for eighth-graders before they sign up for their ninth-grade courses. During the fairs, students have the opportunity to meet CTE teachers and students from their zoned high schools as well as local industry representatives. The first Career Pathway Fair was held in May 2014 at Witworth Buchannan Middle School in Murfreesboro. Beth Duffield, Vice President of Workforce Development at the Rutherford County Chamber of Commerce, says at least four of the county’s 12 middle schools will hold Career Pathway Fairs this coming spring.

For rising seniors in Rutherford County, the High School Internship Program offers a four-week work-based learning experience during summer vacation. Participants work for a local employer for 16 hours each week and also spend four hours per week in a work-based learning workshop. Prior to the start of the internship, students attend eight hours of pre-employment training at the Rutherford County Chamber of Commerce. Students are paid $10 per hour for the time they spend working, training, and attending workshops. Half of this pay is covered by the employer, while the other half comes from the Chamber of Commerce. During summer 2015, the first year of the program, 20 students were placed in internships with 11 different companies. In summer 2016, the size of the program will increase to 40 students.

This fall, the Rutherford County Chamber of Commerce launched the Career Pathways Partnership. The goal of this partnership is to allow businesses to help design CTE programs for Rutherford County’s high schools. So far, the Partnership includes companies in 14 out of 16 CTE pathways. Several pathways have multiple partner companies. One notable CTE program in Rutherford County is the mechatronics program at Oakland High School. Business partners for this program include Nissan and Bridgestone. Students who complete the three-course mechatronics program can continue their studies at Motlow State Community College or Middle Tennessee State University.

For more information about workforce development programs at the Rutherford County Chamber of Commerce, including ACE, Career Pathway Fairs, and the High School Internship Program, click here.

(Thanks to Beth Duffield for her contribution to this blog post.)

This is the sixth in a series of SCORE Sheet blogs about school-business partnerships in Tennessee that focus on helping students develop skills for postsecondary education and the workforce.