As a Career Advisor and Youth Service Coordinator with CareerForce Moorhead, Deb Grant helps youth learn about job possibilities as they exit their high school years. One key to that process, Grant said, is exposing students to opportunities they never knew existed.
“We tell kids anything is possible, but one student had an excellent reflection for me,” said Grant. “She said, how can I know what I want to be if I do not know what is out there?”
With that in mind, Grant found the perfect opportunity for her students with Big Ideas, a non-profit organization from New Ulm that provides opportunities to discover, explore and learn real-world trade skills. The organization offers in-person classes, but also has a “Roadshow,” which involves bringing their instruction to clients. The Mobile Learning Lab is a semi-trailer filled with three classrooms of immersive virtual reality systems that simulate welding, industrial painting, CAT excavation and an Oculus based career exploration program for over 20 trades simulations.
“Educators know that not every child has the same exposure to the same experiences, so we typically say we have to meet the kids where they are,” said Grant. “That's what we were literally able to do with Big Ideas, because the opportunity drove up on wheels!”
Big Ideas initiated in 2017 as a creation of two parents who saw a need for a greater emphasis on skilled trade careers for high school students. Today, it is a nonprofit organization and collaboration between professional tradespeople who share their knowledge with students to introduce them to the skilled trade options. It hosts classes at its New Ulm location where instructors lead introductory courses in a range of trades for students to practice the technical skills required while imparting the soft skills needed for success. The leading edge augmented and virtual reality technology gives curious learners the hands-on experience that can create a memorable connection to in-demand jobs.
The Mobile Learning Lab includes a number of exciting opportunities to grab students' attention. Individuals receive through-the-helmet feedback during Augmented Reality Welding where Miller Welding software scores each weld. Virtual Reality (VR) Painting offers exposure to industrial painting and coating and a CAT Simulator, developed by Caterpillar Corporation, offers training on operating heavy equipment. The Oculus headsets and TransFR VR programming allows students to explore 23 different trades, from auto maintenance to fire suppression.
Roadshow comes to Moorhead
Grant brought the Big Ideas Roadshow to the Moorhead CareerForce parking lot on August 11 so students she works with could spend four hours with the instructors in the Mobile Learning Lab. In her role as a Career Advisor with CareerForce and in conjunction with Rural Minnesota Concentrated Employment Program, Grant works with students from a number of locations. Several students attended from the Youthbuild Program, designed to provide specialized training for those between 16 and 24 years of age who are at risk of not completing or have not completed their high school education. Others attended from the Minnesota Youth Program, which offers short term employment and training services to low-income and at-risk youth ages 14 to 24, while others came from the Moorhead Alternative Learning Center.
“The Mobile Learning lab was an exceptional opportunity for these kids to get hands-on experience to be exposed to the skilled trades,” said Grant. “The virtual and augmented reality provides such a unique experience that the kids connect to.”
The experience was so special, said Grant, because students relate much more to the hands-on experience than listening to a teacher in a lecture.
“The trades suddenly become a much more interesting option to them when they can see and do the activity, as compared to feeling bored with hearing about it in lecture,” she said.
Grant also pointed to the professional and engaging attitude the instructors had to making the experience so successful.
“The Instructors have a passion for sharing their knowledge and the students see that,” she said. “They were grateful to give the kids this opportunity and that feeling was contagious, as the students were grateful for the instruction.”