The connection between Heritage Trust Federal Credit Union (FCU) and the state's career academies began in 2014 when the Charleston Metro Chamber of Commerce did a study on the skill gaps in the community.
"We did a study in 2014 to look at what skill gaps there were in the market," Mary Graham, the chamber's chief advancement officer, recently told the Palmetto Business Daily. "We were hearing from employers that they couldn't find the workers that they needed and just couldn't find the skills locally. So, we did the study and found that there were some significant gaps."
With the encouragement and support of the chamber, local businesses began working with the Career and Technology Education (CTE) program, also known as career academies, to help students learn the real-world aspects of the various career fields associated with the CTE program.
Heritage Trust FCU became involved with the career academies in the same year as the study, 2014, when it began working with the Dorchester District Two's new business and finance career academy, Heritage Trust Federal Credit Union Senior Vice President and Chief Development Officer Emily Reynolds told Palmetto Business Daily last week.
"(It) was a great fit for us, being a credit union and being that we are very involved in all the schools already providing financial education," she said.
Heritage Trust FCU partnered with the school district to learn and understand the curriculum, and how it could enhance the lessons being taught to the students. From the marketing to the finance perspectives, the credit union was able to work with the teachers to support the new academy and the school district. The credit union works with the students, from interviewing skills to the development and marketing of an idea.
In addition to working with the teachers, Heritage Trust FCT took the educational program to the next level.
"Our goal (was) to put a credit union branch in a local school," Reynolds said. "Last year we invested in Summerville High School and Goose Creek High School. The school was on board with us building this student-run credit union there. They gave us a location in the school. We worked with them to refurbish that location so it was a true functioning branch. Then we developed a custom training program for 26 students to go through and two teachers last summer."
The two new branches opened last fall at the high schools. Students who work at the branches are selected through an entire interview and selection process that mirrors applying for a job with the credit union. The students complete the entire onboarding process, from applications to filling out forms to training in the actual Heritage branch. The students' positions are similar to a paid student intern position, and they receive class credit. The school-based credit union branches are open during lunch periods.
The innovative educational program ties back to the Chamber of Commerce and its business partnership program with the career academies.
"We recognize the gaps between local graduates and filling of positions in the area," Reynolds said.
Graham said because of the gaps, new jobs were filled by new residents to the region instead of existing workers.
"It was a wakeup call to the community that we needed to make sure we were doing everything possible to give our own kids a chance to be employed in these great new jobs being created," Graham said.
In addition to the chamber's support of businesses that work with the career academies, such as Heritage Trust FCU, the chamber sponsors a scholarship program to assist students who would not otherwise be financially able to attend college.
Career academy students from Charleston, Berkeley and Dorchester counties with a 2.0 to a 2.9 GPA can apply for the Charleston Metro Chamber of Commerce’s Accelerate Greater Charleston (AGC) Scholarships.
The 75 graduating career academy students awarded AGC scholarships this year were honored at an award program today at the Charleston Metro Chamber of Commerce.