Employers are joining students this fall as they go back to school. It is all part of a new program called Options and Opportunities. The program was officially launched in a press conference today, Sept. 14. Norm Kemp, an employer from the Department of National Defence and student Amy McKay from Auburn Drive High School were on hand to share their experience in last year’s pilot program. “This is an opportunity for those students who may not be meeting their academic potential because they are not fully engaged in our public school program,” said Education Minister Karen Casey. “We need to ensure these students are prepared to take advantage of the opportunities Nova Scotia has to offer. By taking this program, students not only earn their high school diploma, they also graduate with work-ready skills and a plan for the future.” The province is investing more than $2 million in the program which is designed to better prepare students for the labour market and help them make more informed career choices. It focuses on career development and matches students with qualified employers to give them opportunities to gain real experience in a real workplace. Schools can offer students experience in arts, culture, and recreation; business; health and human services; hospitality and tourism; information technology; and, trades and technologies. Ms. McKay said the program helped her go from a frustrated student to a high-achiever who now loves school and boasts a perfect attendance record. “Last year everything improved. School is a lot less stressful,” said Ms. McKay, who is starting her second year in the Options and Opportunities program. She also said the program helped keep her engaged in her school work and her marks rose by 20 per cent. The program was piloted by Auburn Drive High School during the 2005-06 school year. This year, it will be expanded to 26 more schools across the province. Mr. Kemp said programs like this are beneficial and that all employers should consider getting involved. “More than half of our civilian workforce is going to retire by 2014 and we need to retain that skill and knowledge base,” said Mr. Kemp, Maritime Forces Atlantic (MARLANT) civilian workforce renewal analyst. “Youth are our future and as an employer it’s our responsibility to support students by exposing them to the many diverse careers that exist in MARLANT, as well as the education and training they need to seize those opportunities. We believe it’s critical to participate in programs like Options and Opportunities. It’s part of our succession planning and it’s the right thing to do.” The Department of Education is also working with the Nova Scotia Community College (NSCC)on a framework for admitting Option and Opportunities graduates to NSCC programs. As part of this process, teachers in the program will work with NSCC to introduce students to NSCC programs. This school year, nine graduates of the pilot program at Auburn Drive High School are entering the college. Recognizing the importance of working with all of its partners to better prepare students, the department is encouraging employers across the province to work with schools to help young people connect with the workplace. An initiative called Invest in Youth, will raise awareness of the many ways employers can get involved, from taking on a student for an Options and Opportunities work placement to hosting a workplace tour. It will also include the creation of a secure database of employer profiles for use by select school, school board and Department of Education staff. The Options and Opportunities program was first announced in June 2005 as part of Learning for Life II: Brighter Futures Together.