Bridging the Gap Between Businesses and Young Career Seekers
Thursday, October 11, 2018
As more baby boomers retire, a workforce crisis is looming, particularly in rural areas of the country. In a recent survey, 48 percent of Minnesota manufacturers said that attracting and retaining skilled workers is one their primary challenges.
The Rural Minnesota Concentrated Employment Program (RMCEP) is aiming to help businesses solve this problem. The nonprofit recently hired Amy Sjoblad as a Rural Career Counseling Coordination (RC3) Business Specialist to help solve this problem. This new position will serve as an important bridge between businesses, workforce centers and educational institutions.
RC3 was made possible by a legislative appropriation. Sjoblad’s position is part of a coordinated regional planning effort designed to build partnerships and develop services within 26 rural workforce development areas.
The role broadens RMCEP’s capabilities and strengthens its approach to workforce development. “Our services fall on a continuum. With our career pathways and advising services, we’re making sure youth are connected with the right opportunities,” explains Craig Nathan, director of regional initiatives. “This is the next piece in the puzzle — connecting career seekers to businesses and vice versa.”
Sjoblad previously worked in Pequot Lakes and Pillager High School as a career advisor, helping high school students prepare for life after graduation. In this role, she also coordinated an internship program, developing internships and apprenticeships in concert with local businesses.
“An internship or work-based experience is the next logical step once students have explored their options and have a plan,” Sjoblad says.
This involves engaging with businesses to develop opportunities and coordinating with existing career counselors. To start, Sjoblad is focusing first on the 22 schools that have RMCEP career advisors embedded within them. Since every school is different, the first step is to connect with schools and work with them to enhance partnerships with businesses.
Sjoblad notes that internships aren’t just a great opportunity for students, they benefit employers too. “Businesses have the opportunity to mold and train young workers for career opportunities through these hands on work experiences. It helps create a pipeline of workers for employers,” she says.
The internships are coupled with academic instruction, where students learn about soft skills and professionalism in the workplace. They develop a resume and portfolio with all the things they learned, which they present to school administrators and counselors.
Student interns or apprentices work outside the classroom for about 10 hours per week in a variety of areas, such as healthcare, business, engineering, trades and teaching. They’re assigned mentors and meaningful tasks tied to their career interests. The aim is to provide real, hands on experience in a particular field or career.
A student Sjoblad worked with in Pequot Lakes aspires to be an entrepreneur. He interned with a company that then hired him, embraced him and exposed him to all aspects of running a business. “He got a really good taste of what it’s like to own your own company,” she says.
Another student whose mother was an elementary education teacher thought she wanted to be a teacher too. But after an internship with a local school, she realized teaching wasn’t for her. “I look at that as a success as well,” says Sjoblad, noting that the student could have gone through the expensive and lengthy process of achieving an elementary education degree only to realize later that the job wasn’t a good fit for her.
These work-based learning experiences can be incredibly impactful for students and rural communities too. “I really see it as an opportunity to make a difference,” Sjoblad says. “The end goal is that students can find themselves in a really good career. It can also help small communities retain young people and help businesses develop a workforce.”