Whitney Harmel is the executive vice president of the Maryland Chamber, executive director of the Maryland Chamber Foundation, with expertise in small, large, local and international business. She is passionate about sharing the Chamber’s vision with the Maryland business community because the transformational work we do in economic development and grassroots advocacy and through the Maryland Chamber Foundation will make Maryland a stronger state for everyone.
We’ve all had a special teacher, or teachers, we can fondly look back at our time in their classroom and say, “my life is better because of them.” A great teacher has the ability to completely alter your life trajectory in the most paramount way. When developing our Teacher Externship Program four years ago, we put the teacher-student relationship at the core of our process because we know Maryland educators are more than just teachers, they are mentors, positive influences and trusted advisors.
The next step after graduation is not always obvious for high school students. For some college is inevitable, but for many others, especially young people in vulnerable and underserved communities, finding your path post-graduation can be a daunting challenge. Those who do not or cannot choose college, are more likely to be pigeon-holed into low-wage work and to a lifetime of trying to make ends meet.
This challenge is made worse by the disconnect that often exists between our businesses and our future workforce. Without knowing what jobs are out there and the experience and education needed to acquire them, our young people are navigating this path blindly and are poorly prepared to enter the workforce.
According to the November 2020 Brookings Institute report Work-based Learning Can Advance Equity and Opportunity for America’s Young People, “Among students and employers, there are few shared benchmarks outlining the skill requirements for different industries and occupations, and how to obtain those skills, and how to measure them. As a result, young people have high levels of unemployment and tend to cycle in and out of jobs even as employers report difficulty finding workers with the necessary skills and experience.”
We can’t blame the educators for not properly preparing our students, because they don’t have the most current industry and employment trend data at their fingertips. We can, however, try to solve this problem by building a bridge between these industries and our educators through work-based learning.
Enter, the Maryland Chamber Teacher Externship Program.
This year, 23 teachers from across the state of Maryland will spend 4 weeks immersed at one of 12 businesses related to the subjects they teach. These paid externships build this bridge between businesses and educators with the goal for the teachers to gain valuable technical and career pipeline knowledge essential to help transition their students into the workforce.
In its fourth year, our program is staged to continue to make real impact on thousands of Maryland students this year through these learning opportunities.
“Thanks to my externship, I have experienced the variety of quality jobs available at the power company and can speak to my students with greater clarity about career options,” said 2021 Teacher Extern Bobby Burkhardt, a biology teacher at Williamsport High School. “These jobs include positions that are available immediately out of high school, technical positions requiring some advanced training and positions that require a four-year degree. I can now speak to each student individually with greater specificity about a job or career that may interest them.”
Building this bridge is important everywhere but is critical in vulnerable and underserved communities. While we have seen intentional effort in the past few years, we know the educational and employment landscapes do not always create equal opportunity for all students in Maryland and those who are low-income, Black, Latinx or Hispanic have historically been at a disadvantage. Through the Teacher Externship Program, we aim to make real, lasting impact to level the playing field for all young people. High-paying jobs are out there, but we need partnerships and programs like the Teacher Externship Program to direct all students onto the path to land one.
“Prince George’s County predominantly enrolls African American and Hispanic students, and opportunities like this will not only change the lives of our participating students, but also our greater geological community and beyond,” said 2021 Teacher Extern Eric Hines, an Algebra teacher at Laurel High School. “Opportunities are stepping-stones, giving hope and inspiration to brilliant young minds who will one day become our world’s next leaders in the tech field.”
Currently, businesses are facing significant challenges with attracting, hiring and retaining skilled workers to fill high-paying positions. Work-based learning programs, like the Teacher Externship Program, can help ease this problem and be the transformative factor for our future workforce. These programs create inclusive connections to help provide opportunity for all our young people, while highlighting and promoting equitable hiring within the business community.
We call our teachers “Architects of Opportunity,” because they truly are empowering their students to dream big and create their own path forward. When we invest in our teachers and arm our young people with the right information upon graduation, they can set themselves on the path to one of these high-paying careers. The talent to fill these great jobs is there, but these inclusive connections must be forged.
Learn more about the 2022 Maryland Teacher Externship Program here.