Career inspiration

Statewide program connects students, employers

Posted on Apr 29, 2019 :: New North
Posted by , Insight on Business Staff Writer

Imagine being a high school student taking an online career interest survey, but instead of tossing out some job titles or career clusters for you to explore online, you learn more about the required education or skills for that job from an actual person in that field, shadow someone for a day or two and land an internship.

For students at schools involved in the Inspire program, that’s exactly what happens. While Inspire is a software program, its main benefit comes through when businesses partner with local schools to be a part of the program, says Nikki Kiss, executive director for Inspire Sheboygan County. She says it’s a win-win — students learn about career opportunities while employers have a chance to discuss what their business does and potentially attract talent to their job sector.

Inspire Sheboygan County, which launched in 2013, serves all public schools in the county.

“Our key to success was getting the schools and businesses together around the same table to talk about our shared vision,” Kiss says. “As we got going, people began to take notice and wanted to replicate our success.”

Last year, the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction purchased an Inspire program license to create the Inspire Wisconsin Network. The state is divided into several districts, including Inspire New North. The program is broken into smaller areas, with  CESA 6 supporting areas in Manitowoc, Calumet and Outagamie counties, where the program does not currently have a presence.

After hearing about the launch of Inspire New North, the Heart of the Valley Chamber of Commerce decided to get involved. The chamber, which has about 550 members, is working with schools in Kaukauna, Little Chute, Kimberly and Freedom as well as area businesses to launch Inspire, says Executive Director Kelli Clussman.

“Our immediate goal is to connect businesses and schools and help move a relationship forward where students can do internships, be an apprentice with a local business, get to tour and learn more about what they do,” she says. “Businesses also have that opportunity to get in front of students to educate them about different career sectors.”

Kiss says Inspire goes beyond a career fair. When students go on a tour or hear a special presentation, they retain more information and sometimes can even do a hands-on activity.

“Inspire also allows us to begin the whole career education process earlier, maybe even when students are in junior high. They can start learning about different career options,” she says.

The businesses involved run the gamut from manufacturers to service providers, says Kiss, adding that the program aims to share a variety of career opportunities.

Students often are surprised to learn a company may hire them right out of school and then pay for them to get additional schooling, Clussman says.

“There are many opportunities and paths students can take after high school and we want them to understand all of them,” she says.

To kick off the Inspire program, the Heart of the Valley Chamber hosted an introduction meeting and 35 area businesses attended.

“Inspire really allows students to learn more about local businesses. For example, we have Kobussen Buses. They have a lot of jobs not related to driving in IT, marketing, HR … Inspire allows students to see all of the opportunities available,” Clussman says.

The chamber is working with CESA 6 to hold monthly seminars with interested businesses so they can set up profiles on Inspire and share information about how to get involved.

“Employers are seeing the benefit of Inspire to support the employment shortages in the region,” Tania Kilpatrick of CESA 6 says. “As students in the region explore further career pathways and careers in the region, Inspire is a tool that can link them locally to companies that offer family-sustaining wages.”

She adds the work being done by New North, Inc. in talent development includes reaching out to the next generation of workers, and Inspire fits well into “the management logic that systemically engages companies, schools and students.”

By sharing information about local businesses with students, Kiss says it shows them the variety of jobs available right in their community and may convince some to stay or come back to the area after college to begin their career.

While the Heart of the Valley Chamber doesn’t reach all the way to Brillion, Clussman says Ariens Co. is a big proponent of Inspire and is working with Mary Kohrell, community economic development director for Calumet County, on that county’s program. “It’s all about helping businesses and students connect,” she says.