Shadow opportunities

Hands-on experience helps students make better career choices

Posted on Mar 10, 2016 :: Education and Training
Sean P. Johnson
Posted by , Insight on Manufacturing Staff Writer

These shadows were neither quiet nor lurking in the background.

It was not in their nature, nor would it have suited the opportunity. These particular shadows were job shadows — high school students from the Fox Cities area — and they were about to raise a ruckus during their visit to Faith Technologies facility in Neenah. By design, or course.

As part of the job shadow program launched by Faith, this group of students was participating in a hands-on field activity that involved basic wiring and testing of fire and security alarms.

“We want to make sure they get a broad view of the opportunities the construction industry can afford them,” said Kelly Chartre, director of marketing for Faith as the students were finishing wiring up their alarm boxes and preparing for a test.

Her next sentence was lost in the sharp wail of an alarm as the first student completed the task at hand.

The alarm activity was just one of several on the agenda for the group visiting Faith on this shadow day, a program the company launched two years ago to help expose students to career options in a variety of construction trades. The students worked in teams of three to four students and rotated activities about every 45 minutes.

For students, the job shadow was more than just a day outside the classroom. It was an opportunity to sample the real work involved in a construction career before committing to the necessary educational requirements.

“It’s just something that I like doing,” says Elaina Sirois, a student from Kimberly High School, the lone woman in her group. “I’m kind of used to that, though.”

For Faith, launching the job shadow program serves two purposes: it helps students explore career options by exposing them to jobs they might have an interest in and it can help identify students who might be candidates for apprenticeship programs through the technical colleges.

Facing a tight labor market and the accelerating pace of baby boomer retirements, companies in the New North region need to raise the profile of the work they do and rewards that go to the skilled workers who  accomplish it.

“Not everyone is a candidate to go to a four-year school,” Chartre says. “There are a lot of rewarding careers available with a two-year degree from the technical colleges or through an apprenticeship program. We can get a student into those programs and they can even make money working while they go to school.”

Faith has been offering this latest version of its job shadow program for two years. Chartre says the company plans to expand the program in 2016.

It’s an opportunity more and more companies are offering — and more educators are encouraging, says Joe O’Brien, a counselor at Sheboygan North High School. He says about 60 companies are participating in the Sheboygan area — a number that is still growing — and there are a myriad of online tools and programs around the region to connect students and companies.

“It’s going to continue to grow in importance until we can change the percentages,” O’Brien says, referring to recent studies that have found as many as 60 percent of the students who head to a four-year college don’t end up earning a degree. “What we are really trying to do is help students and parents make a good decision when it comes to
career options.”

Programs such as job shadows are valuable tools, O’Brien says, because they provide a detailed look at the work involved without a major investment in time by the student.
It’s a great way for students to sample a variety of options. “If they like what they see and experience, they can contour their educational choices in that direction,” he says. “If they don’t like it, it’s better to know that now and explore other options.”

It’s not only the student that needs to be targeted, O’Brien says. Parents play a critical role, and it is just as important to convince them a student’s interests may follow a path other than a four-year degree. He says the Sheboygan schools hold frequent events for both students and parents to explain the value of activities such as job shadowing.

O’Brien expects job shadowing, co-ops and internships with manufacturers will become even more critical as new state requirements for student career portfolios are rolled out next
school year.

And it’s not just high school students who can benefit from a job shadow.

Colin Mulvany graduated from high school in 2000 and is currently studying construction management at Fox Valley Technical College. The job shadow offered by Faith offered him a chance to expand the types of construction trades he has been exposed to. While he may be coming to the party a little later than his partners for the day, he found it just as valuable to his career planning process.

“It just gives me a good idea of what I might be doing every day,” he says. “That’s valuable information to have.”