Work Force Developement
Workforce development not only elevates business productivity and efficiency but also impacts philanthropy, community affinity and activism, and quality of life endeavors that promote entrepreneurship and cultural enrichment. Find out how Topeka companies, nonprofit organizations and schools are collaborating to make the capital city an even more rewarding place to pursue a profession now and into the future.
INTEGRATING A QUALIFIED WORKFORCE WITH QUALITY OF LIFE
Matt Pivarnik, president and chief executive officer of the Greater Topeka Chamber of Commerce and GO Topeka, believes that creating a well-trained workforce depends not only on skills acquired on the job, but also on recreational and cultural opportunities available after hours.
“It used to be that someone would graduate from college and move to a community to take a job, but now it’s more likely that younger workers, especially, will choose where they want to live and then find a job,” he says. “The focus now is on quality of place.”
Pivarnik praises Topeka and Shawnee County’s educational pipeline with its awardwinning programs for early childhood initiatives through post-secondary education opportunities available from area colleges and universities.
“Education is a driving factor in workforce development and corporate competitiveness,” he says. “We’re not looking at our third graders as dollar signs, but they will be the people who will eventually run our cities, county and country, and we need to make sure they are prepared.”
GO Topeka offers several programs, such as “Manufacturers in the Classroom,” to acquaint Shawnee County high school students with career paths in stateof-the-art, high-tech manufacturing and distribution facilities. In addition, “Bring Your ‘A’ Game to Work,” a workethic curriculum program, provides school districts with work skills training that underscores the importance of appreciation, attitude, attendance, appearance, ambition, accountability and acceptance on the job regardless of industry.
The presentations share information about desired work skills and certification programs that can allow high school graduates to find fulfilling, well-paying positions with potential to pursue degrees through tuition assistance programs. In 2016, eight sessions reached 950 students.
Targeted to open in 2018 and operated through the Washburn Institute of Technology, the East Topeka Learning Center, 2014 SE Washington St., will offer a variety of programs to help students earn GEDs, obtain certifications or pursue associate’s degrees to further bolster the region’s talent pool.
Barbara Stapleton, vice president of GO Topeka, facilitates initiatives to ensure local companies have the ability to recruit and retain employees.
“We’re work-ethic advocates and believe in programs that provide cradle through career success,” she says. “Many of the companies that have located here in recent years have received accolades and awards for their productivity and ingenuity. Home Depot, Mars Chocolate North America and Bimbo Bakeries are just a few examples of local plants that have excelled with a workforce hired from within our region.”
Pivarnik agrees. “Their success stories along with those of other companies illustrate our pro-business climate and a well-trained regional workforce. Whether a company provides health care or financial services or puts products on store shelves, nimble companies can flourish here.”
SHAPING THE STORY EARLY
The Topeka & Shawnee County Public Library and the United Way of Greater Topeka have joined together to potentially prepare more than 10,000 Shawnee County children ages 0-5 for lifelong success by mailing them a book each month through an alliance with the Dolly Parton Imagination Library.
Gina Millsap, chief executive officer of the Topeka & Shawnee County Public Library, says the benefits of early childhood literacy have a lasting impact not only on brain development but also on economic development.
“What happens in the first five years shapes the next 80,” she says. “Ultimately, good readers make good citizens and productive adults. They are more likely than non-readers to volunteer; visit museums; attend plays, sporting events and concerts; participate in outdoor activities; vote; and have better paying, more satisfying jobs.”
EXPANDING CAREER EXPOSURE
Through an extensive partnership with Westar Energy, Topeka Public Schools offer students of all ages numerous opportunities to connect their math and science homework to a potential career path in the utility industry. Westar’s “Electrify Your Future,” established in April 2012, creates awareness about career pathways through job shadowing opportunities and provides post-secondary scholarships for area high school graduates who plan to pursue engineering, environmental science or business degrees.
This fall, the new Jardine Elementary School will focus on a STEAM curriculum (science, technology, engineering, art and mathematics), and the Scott Dual Language school will continue to prepare a bilingual workforce, even receiving recognition as a school of excellence from the Embassy of Spain.
Each summer Westar and Youth Entrepreneurship Kansas work with a select number of high school students who participate in a 10-day intensive look at diverse careers with the utility company.
“We’re doing what we can to spark interest in practical applications for math and science as they explore career possibilities,” says Mark Ruelle, Westar Energy president and chief executive officer. “We also want to see if we can help keep some of our best and brightest students right here in Kansas.”
Topeka Public Schools Superintendent Tiffany Anderson envisions that by 2018 all high school students will have access to 30 to 60 college hours, an associate’s degree or industry credentials that will allow them to be placed in jobs while still in high school. During her first year as superintendent, she has added monthly college tours, assigned staff members to mentor seniors as they move through college and hired a career advocate to partner with universities to provide expanded opportunities and scholarships.
Topeka Public Schools has collaborated with multiple businesses and organizations including Architect One, Inc. to create the Topeka Center for Advanced Learning Careers, which will open in August 2018. The innovative curriculum will be offered in a stateof-the-art building on the Kanza Park property. Students will have access to 18 career pathways during half-day sessions through which they will work on projects with professionals in their field of interest.
As a result of these and other initiatives, Anderson anticipates higher graduation rates with all students equipped with a post-secondary plan.
“The revitalization of downtown, the stability of residents and the investment from businesses into schools make Topeka uniquely positioned to be a top city that will provide a high quality of life experience,” Anderson says.
ENGAGING YOUNG PROFESSIONALS
For years, a young professionals organization organized through the Greater Topeka Chamber of Commerce has brought people together for socialization and volunteerism to create an affinity for the capital city. Renamed Forge in 2016, the group promotes six initiatives to encourage young professionals to call Topeka home—attraction, leadership, business development, diversity and inclusion, volunteerism and government relations.
Chair Sean Frost, a development director for the Washburn University Alumni Association and Foundation, estimates membership at more than 1,500 and says social activities, connection to seasoned community leaders and corporate support provide rewarding reasons to start or sustain a career in Topeka. Forge sponsors include Advisors Excel, Bartlett & West, Capitol Federal, FHLBank Topeka, Washburn University and Westar Energy.
“My experience with the organization has led me to better career opportunities that have put me in roles I never anticipated were a possibility for me,” Frost says. “I have been asked to serve on several boards for organizations I am passionate about. If you show up, help out and get to know the people involved in our community projects, you can make a big impact on Topeka’s future.”
Some of the initiatives Forge has fostered include Forge Fest, an annual downtown concert event; voter registration initiatives and city council and mayoral candidate forums; downtown revitalization and NOTO Arts District development; a summer internship program undertaken with corporate partners; and entrepreneurial endeavors that enhance quality of life.
“It’s often hard to make new friends after college and there is a misperception that there is no place for young people to hang out in town, so our monthly Pub Club makes the rounds to different locations that are fun to visit and allow participants to not only meet new people in the community but to get involved,” Frost says.
Some of Frost’s favorite establishments are the Norsemen, Blind Tiger and Happy Basset breweries and the Wheel Barrel.
“Young people like to spend money on experiences, and it will be great to see more types of places in downtown and NOTO where you could walk from one fun place to the next,” he says.