We Can't All Get Jobs in a Pie Factory

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Some years ago I worked with high school dropouts to prep for their GED exams and find employment.  The common joke among the participants was that they all wanted a job taste-testing in a pie factory, everything else looked hard and/or boring. We spent a significant amount of time helping them understand realities of the work world. 

Enter the inaugural Students@Work Week which was held in February in Asheville.

What is Students@Work Week?

A project of the NC Business Committee for Education and the NC Department of Public Instruction; the goal is for NC businesses to help middle school students see the opportunities that exist in the workplace.
In Buncombe County, we had groups of students actually tour businesses. Through job shadowing, presentations, discussions, and interactive activities, students learned what the businesses were about. Twenty-five area businesses hosted 750 middle school students from Asheville City and Buncombe County Schools. 

Each day of the week had a focus based on the Asheville Area Chamber of Commerce’s 5X5 initiative which is targeting five 21st century business/industry clusters:

  • Science, Technology, Engineering and Math
  • Health Care
  • Hospitality and Tourism
  • Advanced Manufacturing
  • Arts and Culture

Why events like Students@Work Week matters

“Middle school is a crucial time for dropout prevention and also when high school curriculum planning takes place. Direct experience with the workplace demonstrates the relevance of education to future success.” (NCBCE)

Youth have very few ways to learn about work settings.  They may see where their parents work, they see retail establishments – restaurants, stores, etc., they see offices – doctors, dentists, and they see schools.  But they may not get to see how the work happens in those places.  And what about all the other kinds of places where people have jobs?  How can young people figure out where they want to work without that information? 

Through Students@Work Week, middle school students got to connect what they are learning in the classroom with the real world of work. They better understood future career options and the importance of staying in school. 

What people said about Students@Work Week in Asheville and Buncombe County 

When the week concluded, teachers and employers were asked about their experiences.  Three goals for participation were identified:

  • Promote career awareness and engage students who may be potential employees
  • Enhance communication and goodwill between business and community
  • Connect educators and students with business people in work environments


77% reported that their goals were met very well or extremely well. 

92% rated the overall experience as above average or excellent. 

92% stated they would participate again.

One teacher said, “My students LOVED experiencing the “behind the scenes” of the businesses we toured. The businesses were GREAT and allowed the students to participate in activities at their site.”

An employer said, “The students were bright and engaging and seemed to take valuable information from our interaction.”

It sounds like the week was time well spent and something that should be repeated and even improved upon. Kudos to all the schools, businesses and supporting organizations for putting together such a strong event.


Check out the photos

Coming soon: a video on this United Way website showing the week in action. 


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