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NEBA Eyes Pandemic Changes, Hispanic Opportunities

Northland Education and Business Alliance discussed recent changes at local schools and heard from the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of Greater Kansas City during their latest meeting April 6.

Co-Chair Adam Jelenik noted that while easing pandemic stresses has been wonderful, it has also brought complexity to local schools dealing with multiple, changing schedules, staffing and technical issues. “It’s been a landslide change for our schools,” he said. “They’re working with complex scheduling, some students in and some out, limited resources and more.”

NEBA members representing Northland schools and universities shared their challenges during this time of transition. Brian Noller, NEBA co-chair and director of the Northland Career Center, described one of the best moments was the time when he was able to “fist bump” students returning to the classroom.

Noller and EDC Executive Director David Slater also described the Career Center’s recent visit by Missouri Governor Mike Parson. The governor, who spoke at a NEBA meeting in March, arrived 30 minutes early to the Career Center and spent the time talking informally with staff and students. “It was a really good day,” Slater concluded.

Future Plans

Several indicated progress from hoped-for trends as vaccines roll out and infection rates level or decline. Colleen Jones of the Liberty School District said that the district’s two high schools are planning proms this year. Meanwhile, Excelsior Springs Area Career Center Director Dr. Mark Bullimore shared that they had recently seen 100 more applicants than any previous semester.

Northland businesses are also moving forward, although Jelenic said a recent shortage of computer semiconductors is hampering the region’s automobile manufacturing and suppliers.

Broad View

The guest speaker for the meeting was Carlos Gomez, director of the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of Greater Kansas City. Noting the steady increase in the Hispanic population nationally and in Greater Kansas City, Gomez said businesses should prepare to reach out to this group while also understanding the strong entrepreneurial drive many possess. He noted that from 2007 to 2015, Hispanics represented 70 percent of the nation’s workforce growth.

For educators, Gomez said a big challenge is increasing awareness of career opportunities among Hispanics, who are prevalent in construction and hospitality but underrepresented elsewhere. “We’re interested in other careers, but we don’t learn about them,” Gomez said, noting an example. “If we don’t know someone in IT, without that connection, we may not even see that as an opportunity.”

Gomez said the Chamber offers scholarships and other services for the Hispanic community, as well as assistance for businesses and others who want to reach out. He said the effort is important at a time when businesses everywhere are struggling for quality employees.

“I’m not here to debate immigration policy,” he said. “But we have a workforce problem and the Hispanic community can be part of the solution.”

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