Progress 2019: Develop the Future Workforce with Cape Chamber

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Saturday, April 27, 2019

When Carly Bowles, CPA at SEMO CPA Company, was in college, her mentor pushed her to do more than she ever thought she could, despite her own reservations. She credits this mentor/mentee relationship with helping her achieve her dream of becoming a CPA, which she now lives on a day-to-day basis.

Because of this relationship, mentoring is important to Bowles. She has mentored two Southeast Missouri State University accounting students through the Cape Chamber's workforce development program, connectCAPE.

"I think it helps the students to see that they can go far in their career and do anything if they work hard," Bowles says. "When we put time into growing our community, it comes back to us with a better workforce."

The program was launched by the Cape Chamber in Spring 2017 as a response to a startling statistic: less than 20 percent of Southeast Missouri State University graduates stay in the Cape Girardeau area to live and work after graduation. connectCAPE aims to bridge this gap between local employers and students by matching students with an employer in their field. The student shadows at the business to gain real-world insight while making local connections. In the first class, 12 students took part in the program; only two years later, more than 50 students participate in the program each semester.

This past fall, the Cape Chamber extended connectCAPE to Cape Central High School students. In Fall 2019, the program will again expand to include students from additional area high schools.

Through connectCAPE, students shadow employees at a business for two, four-hour sessions during the semester, conversing with employees about professionalism, career paths and the application process. The employee shows the student what the day-to-day of their job is like and afterwards, fills out a survey about the experience. Support for the structure of these sessions is provided by the Cape Chamber.

For host businesses, participating in the program can provide an opportunity to meet new potential employment candidates and begin the employee development process without paying wages. It can also help businesses understand and measure current educational trends in the field, as well as build the confidence of current employees.

"Meeting students where they are and helping guide them down the career path that is right for them is going to be key to the stability and future of our workforce," says Kim Voelker, Cape Chamber vice president and director of connectCAPE. "That is exactly what connectCAPE does. We've received wonderful feedback from students each semester, and our businesses have shown overwhelming support of the program, time and time again."

connectCAPE is just one of several initiatives the Cape Chamber is working on to develop local talent. Others include Capable, a campaign to teach elementary, middle and high school students about essential skills; Chamber Young Professionals, a group dedicated to our area's up-and-coming workforce; and a talent attraction campaign, which is currently in its early stages and working to assist in bringing new talent to the Cape Girardeau area. Each of these programs helps young people foster connections and real-world experience to grow the local workforce.

If your business would like to network with SEMO and high school students as a host business through connectCAPE, contact Kim Voelker at (573) 335-3312, or visit for more information.