Connecting business and education to prepare the workforce in Washoe County

Annie Conway
A high student is seen in action in a welding class. Many of the emerging jobs in northern Nevada will require technical skills. To discuss what the Washoe County School District is doing to prepare K-12 students to meet local employers' needs, The Washoe K-12 Education Foundation is hosting The Business of Education event on Thursday, May 18, at the Peppermill.
Courtesy WCSD Signature Academy and Career & Technical Education |

Workforce development is one of the big challenges that northern Nevada employers face in a growing economy.

The Washoe K-12 Education Foundation, the Economic Development Authority of Western Nevada (EDAWN) and the Reno-Sparks Chamber of Commerce will host an event to present what the Washoe County School District is doing to prepare students to meet local employers’ workforce needs. The Business of Education event will be held from noon to 1:30 p.m., Thursday, May 18, at the Peppermill Resort Spa Casino in the Tuscany Ballroom.

The event is designed to connect the business community and education community by presenting what the Washoe County School District is doing to prepare students for the emerging workforce. Businesses also will learn how they can get involved with K-12 workforce development.

“(The event) is a great opportunity for our community, for both the school district community and the business community,” Dana Ryan, director of Signature Academies and CTE in the Washoe County School District, said.

Dr. Tony Slonim, president and CEO of Renown Health, will be the keynote speaker at the May 18 event.

“He represents an industry that is really challenged in finding people to work in the health sciences,” said Michonne Ascuaga, chairman of the Washoe K-12 Education Foundation Board of Directors.

Many of the jobs coming into the region are technology and manufacturing jobs that require certificates and degrees from community colleges or from apprenticeship programs. However, workforce development needs to start at the K-12 level.

“Education is a continuum,” Ascuaga said. “Kids start thinking generally about what they want and don’t want to do really in middle school.”

The Washoe K-12 Education Foundation is a private foundation that was established in 2011 to raise funds to support programs and projects such as the High School Signature Academies, STEM teacher training, teacher effectiveness surveys, career and college ready materials, school uniforms for low-income students and more. Ascuaga explained this is the first time they are hosting this type of event.

“After watching WC-1 … we felt it was important to keep it front and center,” Ascuaga said, referring to the county ballot question to fund school facilities needs.

One of the ways the school district is preparing students is through Signature Academies and Career & Technical Education (CTE). Signature Academies are four-year programs at local high schools that provide curriculum that works to prepare students for special careers and industries. Each high school has different types of programs ranging from manufacturing technology to performing arts.

Students must apply and be accepted into the program, typically as they start 9th grade. The academies also allow students to earn college credits and possibly industry certificates.

“CTE (Career & Technical Education) right now is the future of our community,” Ryan said.

According to Ryan, the number of students in these programs has increased by 15 percent within the past four years.

“It has definitely grown and we anticipate that it will continue to grow,” Ryan said.

Currently, nearly 40 percent of high school students enroll in Signature and CTE programs. Ryan said the goal is to get 50 percent of high school students enrolled in these programs by 2020.

According to Ryan, there are three main ways that businesses can help prepare students for the workforce. The first is to provide opportunities for teachers to meet with businesses to make sure that they are keeping up with the latest applications in the industry. The second is providing students first-hand experience in the industry with internships, the opportunity for students to shadow a business or even for a business owner to speak to a class about their business. The third is financial support for the school district to be able to buy equipment that is being used in the workforce or to donate old equipment for students.

Attendees of the May 18 event will learn more about how businesses and the school district can work together to develop the workforce.

“We all work collaboratively to move the workforce development pipeline forward,” Ryan said.

Tickets for the Business of Education Luncheon cost $100 per person or $750 for a table of eight. Proceeds from the event will go to the Washoe K-12 Education Foundation. For more information and to register, visit the Reno-Sparks Chamber of Commerce’s website or call 775-636-9550.

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