With so many career choices available today, answering the “What do you want to be when you grow up?” question requires some homework. Five South Dakota districts are teaming up to help students do that career research thanks to resources from a three-year grant.
“Today there are so many options for kids,” according to Chris Bosma, a career coach who works with students at each of the participating schools. “There are hundreds of thousands of jobs out there. It can be confusing for them to make a decision on what they’ll do for the rest of their life.”
Students in Armour, Corsica-Stickney, Ethan, Mount Vernon, and Parkston have the opportunity to work directly with Bosma. In the classroom they research careers and explore the online SDMyLife planning tools, and off-campus they tour area businesses and engage in job shadowing. She also meets individually with the juniors and seniors at most of the schools.
Formerly the counselor for Corsica-Stickney, Bosma understands the multiple hats worn in that role.
“There’s not a lot of time in a school counselor’s day to get everything done,” she said, citing increased testing, classroom guidance, individual counseling, scholarship applications, and more. “Sometimes the career exploration piece gets pushed aside a little bit.”
The S.D. Workforce Initiative grant for the five schools was written by Parkston. Superintendent Shayne McIntosh says he felt it was important to have someone who could, in a full-time capacity, help students find their best career.
“The goal is to get people into the workforce quicker, provide students with opportunities, and save families educational costs,” he says.
McIntosh’s participation in the Parkston Development Corp. and the Mitchell Area Workforce Development Committee has given him insight into the region’s need for skilled labor. And as a school administrator, he also sees students who enter a four-year college but do not go on to graduate.
“It seemed to me that we needed to do a better job of showing students all the options available to them,” he said.
Since the program started on Aug. 1 of last year, 50 students have been engaged in job shadowing. Students from Mount Vernon, for example, recently spent the day in Mitchell touring Toshiba, POET Biorefining, and Trail King. The grant helps defray the schools’ costs for busing students to these activities.
Whether the students’ reaction to a job shadow is thumbs up or down, each experience moves them closer to a decision—or at least in the right general direction. “By doing these activities now, we’re hoping to steer them at least to a cluster they’re interested in, and they can narrow it down from there,” Bosma says.
Students who are proactive about career planning may also be ready for dual-credit classes, which Bosma says can get them a semester—or even a year—ahead when they hit college. She also makes sure they know about local employers who will pay back school loans if the graduate commits to working for them for a length of time. Muth Electric, Trail King and Butler Machinery are just a few examples in the Mitchell area.
McIntosh says the reaction has been positive.
“Students are being given opportunities to explore, shadow, and experience careers in a much more in-depth fashion,” he said. “I think things are going quite well.”