Chamber gets local students thinking about jobs, education

The Greater Shelby County Chamber of Commerce presented its Keeping It Real program at Oak Mountain High School in April of this year. The Chamber just launched the program's second year. (Contributed)

The Greater Shelby County Chamber of Commerce presented its Keeping It Real program at Oak Mountain High School in April of this year. The Chamber just launched the program’s second year. (Contributed)

By AMY JONES / For the Reporter

With the economy still in uncertain times and the job market constantly shifting, the Greater Shelby County Chamber of Commerce is doing its best to make sure the county’s next great wave of workers is well-prepared.

On Sept. 4, the Chamber launched the second year of its Keeping It Real program at Cornerstone Christian School. The program, which will find its way into 11 schools during the 2014-2015 school year, is aimed at ninth-graders across the county, according to Keyla Handley, the Chamber director of community and workforce development.

Keeping It Real is a two-day program in each school. The first day consists of a PowerPoint presentation “just to kind of get the kids thinking about, ‘What do you really want to do with your life?’” Handley said.

“We go over the statistics about how many jobs there are available for people with just a high school diploma and how many jobs are available for people with a two-year or four-year diploma,” she said.

Each student is given a worksheet with details of a potential life situation — whether the student is married or unmarried, with children or not, whether his or her spouse is working, a specific job and a yearly and monthly salary, Handley said.

“All the jobs are jobs that are in Shelby County that they could potentially go out and get one day,” she said.

The students are given taxes that they must pay. Then, on the second day of the program, volunteers set up 12 different booths that each represent a different monthly bill, such as transportation, housing, insurance, child care and utilities, among others. There is also an education booth, where students can decide whether they want to pay to pursue a two-year or four-year degree. In return, students can see their potential salary increases, Handley said.

The program gets students thinking, as Handley has seen through feedback from students and parents, she said.

“I’ve had parents that say, ‘Thank you, I’ve had a child that thinks more about spending and not just going out,’” she said.

She also had one student, who went through last year’s program, that gave thoughtful feedback on a survey sheet regarding the random life situations students were assigned.

“This student said, ‘You’re not always going to get the job you want. We can’t always pick the life we want. Life goes on and things change, and those things can change our future, good or bad. We have to adapt and keep going. With a good education in life, the more secure and comfortable you will be and live,’” Handley said.

She said that kind of thinking is why the Chamber intended this program to focus on ninth-graders.

“It’s a time for them to think about, ‘OK, I need to really concentrate on making good grades.’ That’s something we go over in our PowerPoint presentation. What are things I can do today to make myself a better employee tomorrow?” said Handley, noting that the program discusses life skills such as being on time, knowing appropriate times to use cell phones and developing legible handwriting.

Handley said the Chamber is also planning a Career Awareness Fair program for all 10th-graders in Shelby County, to be held April 23-24 at the Shelby County Exhibition Center. The Chamber eventually hopes to have programs that include 11th- and 12th-graders as well, she said.

Program dates at schools are as follows: Kingwood Christian School, Sept. 26; Oak Mountain High School, Oct 8-9; Calera High School, Nov. 20-21; Montevallo High School, Dec. 10-11; Thompson High School, Jan. 14-15; Vincent High School, Jan. 29-30; Helena High School, Feb. 11-12; Shelby County High School, Feb. 26-27; Chelsea High School, March 11-12; and Pelham High School, March 16-17.

Keeping It Real is also sponsored by Legacy Community Federal Credit Union and the UPS Store location at Caldwell Mill Road and Valleydale Road in Hoover. For more information about the program, call Keyla Handley at 663-4542.