Last year, Rasmuson Foundation invested $1 million in a bold plan spearheaded by United Way of Anchorage to boost Anchorage graduation rates through a broad community collaboration. In today's guest post, Anchorage Chamber of Commerce President Andrew Halcro outlines a role for the business community in improving graduation rates in the city.

Last year, Rasmuson Foundation invested $1 million in a bold plan to boost Anchorage graduation rates through a broad community initiative spearheaded by United Way of Anchorage. In today’s guest post, Anchorage Chamber of Commerce President Andrew Halcro outlines a role for the business community in improving graduation rates in the city.

Posted by Andrew Halcro, President, Anchorage Chamber of Commerce

Andrew Halcro photo courtesy Anchorage Chamber of Commerce.

United Way of Anchorage (UWA) recently asked Anchorage Chamber of Commerce members the following question: Are you finding all the employees you require with the skills, attitudes and behaviors needed to grow your business?

The question was rhetorical. According to the latest Anchorage Economic Development Corporation (AEDC ) confidence index report, 58 percent of businesses cite the shortage of professional/technical workers, 51 percent cite the shortage of semi-skilled workers, and 50 percent cite poor job readiness of entry level workers.

Anchorage businesses are not alone in their struggle. Many teenagers are not graduating from high school ready to join local companies or go on to higher education.

Reasons students report for dropping out are varied and complicated. “I stopped going to school because I didn’t see the point.” “My best friend dropped out because he needed to support his family.” “I stopped coming because I felt like nobody cared if I showed up.” “Sarah didn’t graduate because she had to stay home and take care of her baby.” “My best friend stopped going to school, and he pressured me to do the same.”

Teens also report the inability to visualize a job or career future for themselves, and a lack of adults in their lives to positively motivate them as obstacles to graduation.

The conclusions drawn from these statistics are clear. The community needs to ensure kids start school ready and stay engaged and on track. Students need to achieve regular attendance, develop positive behaviors, and make good choices in order to graduate equipped to join the workforce or continue on to higher education.

These two problems, the lack of prepared workers and barriers to graduation, are interrelated but are within the community’s power to improve.

Many business leaders are already aware of the issue and are taking action to start developing Anchorage’s workforce early.

Bill Popp, president and CEO of AEDC agrees. “Graduation rates are crucial for Anchorage to become the #1 city in America to Live. Work. Play. Our community needs to rally for our students and offer the proper support and resources to help improve the current graduation rate in Anchorage.”

To solve the workforce shortage problem, UWA has joined forces with dozens of partners from all sectors and hundreds of individuals in a concerted effort to help youth gain the skills and attitudes that lead to success — academically, in the workforce, and in life.

If you haven’t heard by now, the community goal is 90 percent graduation rate by the year 2020, which should result in more students prepared for immediate careers or higher education.

UWA and the Anchorage School District are making significant progress. In the last six years, the graduation rate has climbed 13 percent. Their tactics, time and investments are taking kids in the right direction. But more help is needed to achieve the 90 percent goal.

The business community can have a pivotal role in shaping their future workforce just by engaging with students. Companies can choose various ways to help by getting involved, taking a stand or spreading the word. Whether they would like to create opportunities within their organization for job shadowing or internships, advocate for 90% by 2020, or become a school business partner, UWA can help them find the right opportunity to interact with youth.

For more information on ways your business can get involved, contact UWA’s Sarah Sledge at 263-3803, ssledge@ak.org or log on to www.90by2020.org. You can also check out the recently released 90% by 2020 Education Action Report here.