Blue Ridge coaches help high school students navigate options


Every student who graduates from high school should have a plan for what comes next. And, if there is no pathway in place, then we – high schools and community colleges, working together – have failed the student. It’s our job to ensure that high school students and graduates receive all the tools they need to transition into a successful career. Career coaches are a good place to start.

Blue Ridge Community College first worked with schools in Transylvania County to get a shared career coach on board. We applied for funding and we were approved. After a positive experience, we continued to work with Henderson County Public Schools to hire two more career coaches. Every public high school in our area is now served by one of these three coaches. We value what our career coaches do and how they work with students and parents to achieve their long-term goals.

Quite simply, career coaches are the most important workforce development strategy that has long been supported in terms of developing a workforce pool for our communities.

A problem with a solution

The American research institutes report that even though the majority of American students graduate from high school, challenges in post-secondary education remain. Not enough students enroll in higher education programs, and not enough students graduate with a degree that translates into better job opportunities and higher incomes. This is concerning, as the vast majority of jobs offering living wages today and in the future are expected to require at least some post-secondary education or training.

Although there are several reasons for this, one of them has to do with students and families not knowing their options. Enter career coaches. Career coaches work alongside guidance counselors to provide career coaching to every high school student. They are there to support student and parent goals and together to review and navigate options.

As a community college, our job is also to prepare students for their next step, regardless of their desire to attend a four-year college, a two-year college transfer, technical vocational training, or enter directly into the labor market or military. We encourage students to explore all of their options.

Career coaches can help students find their passion and also help assess and identify the best way to get there (eg best college, major, classes, and internships). They can also help develop a strategic plan to guide them through their final years of high school and help them build interview and resume writing skills. More importantly, they can often reduce anxiety and confusion about college choices and future careers.

Have a local economic impact

Very often, students would like to find a well-paid job here at home, but they are unaware of all the possibilities available to them. For example, one of Blue Ridge’s programs, the Career and College Promise Program, is set up to help eligible middle and high school students take transferable, tuition-free courses while still enrolled in high school. It also offers structured transfer, career and training opportunities. These college transfer classes carry the same weight as high school advanced placement classes.

And there’s also Blue Ridge Career Pathways, a collaborative partnership that connects business and industry with high schools, technical career centers and Blue Ridge Community College. Its mission is to provide advanced specialized education and training in technology-related careers for the high-skilled, high-paying jobs that are in demand.

So, career coaches and programs like these don’t just help students directly. They have an overall economic impact on the community as a whole. They help educate and train people who are about to enter the job market, which also benefits the community.

Keep an eye on the future

Now more than ever, we believe it’s time for students and families to seek advice from a career coach. Why? The pandemic has created an isolated environment for many and made face-to-face interactions difficult or absent. It also forced students into an academic routine that mostly involved computers and smart phones. It’s time to recommit.

Career coaches are ready to step in and help build a strong and confident workforce ready to take on what’s next. Let’s rebuild the labor pool together, one career at a time.

Laura Leatherwood

Laura B. Leatherwood, Ed.D., is the president of Blue Ridge Community College. Leatherwood was selected as the 2022 President of the Year by the NC Community College System. Prior to Blue Ridge, she spent 17 years in various roles at Haywood Community College. Dr. Leatherwood holds a doctorate in university and college leadership, a master’s degree in human resource development and a bachelor’s degree in business law, all from Western Carolina University.


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