Jack townsley 2017-03-04 00:49:06
THE Lenawee Intermediate School District (LISD) TECH Center serves all students in Lenawee County, MI, by providing high-quality career-technical education through 25 state-approved programs. Students can select LISD TECH Center programs at no cost to the student or home district, as part of their high school schedule. Students earn credit toward multiple graduation requirements from unique career and college focused options, not available anywhere else in the county. In addition, most LISD TECH Center programs come with industry certifications and/or college credit. The LISD TECH Center Reverse Job Fair (RJF), held annually at the LISD TECH Center, is entering its fourth year and has, by any measure, been a resounding success. It has become a cornerstone in our mission to get students career and college ready, along with helping meet our mission to be a talent pipeline for regional employers. In fact, it has become a must-attend event for many employers. The RJF “reverses” the roles of a typical job fair. Instead of having employers seated at tables, displaying artifacts of their business, greeting candidates, and collecting resumes, the LISD TECH Center RJF reverses the roles, placing students behind the tables, prepped with an elevator pitch highlighting their strengths, displaying samples of their work, and resumes at the ready. Regional employers are targeted for attendance based on the participating CTE programs. Upon arrival, employers are registered, handed a program showcasing participating students, and invited to circulate through the room, on the lookout for talent matching their hiring needs. The event is a direct response by the LISD TECH Center to a need that has been voiced loud and clear by employers—a need to find talent to sustain their businesses. Here, as elsewhere, employers are having a very difficult time meeting their hiring needs. The unemployment rate is in a free fall, the pool of available labor is shrinking at the very same time baby boomers in their employ are retiring at record rates. It is a perfect storm creating an impending talent crisis. The RJF concept was developed in collaboration with our local economic development and workforce development partners, Lenawee Now and South Central Michigan Works respectively, along with help and support from the Jackson Area Manufacturers Association, as a response to the regional talent crisis. The LISD TECH Center assembled the planning team in the fall of 2013 to come up with a creative initiative that connected students to local employers clamoring for talent. The team quickly landed on the RJF as the solution. The RJF was piloted in the spring of 2014 and included students from the four LISD TECH Center programs in our manufacturing cluster: Advanced Manufacturing; Engineering, Design, and CAD; Welding Technology; and Alternative Energy and Robotics. In the second year, two additional programs from our construction cluster were added: Building Trades and Residential Construction. Last year’s event included eight programs, with the addition of Computer Information Systems and Automotive Services Technology. The event is scheduled in late April, just a few weeks before seniors graduate, transitioning to their next challenge, either bound for college or career. All seniors in the participating programs are highly encouraged to participate, and juniors are allowed to participate in the event with a recommendation from their instructor. Depending on the grade and program of study, the student’s desired outcome may differ. For example, seniors in our Machining and CAM program are typically looking for direct employment, hopefully with an employer that will put them into a Department of Labor-approved apprenticeship. This then will continue their skill growth, leading to a journeyman’s card—a portable credential recognized nationwide. A junior from the same program may be looking for an opportunity to connect with an employer to arrange a co-op placement for their senior year. Many participating students whose plan is to attend college after graduation will be looking for part-time employment, summer employment, or an internship. Exemplary Features of the reverse Job Fair Preparation for the spring event starts at the beginning of the school year with teachers circling the date on the calendar, highlighting it for students as a year-end goal to be working towards. The RJF becomes a culminating event that provides context and relevancy for technical and soft skill development. Career preparation has always been central to instruction at the LISD TECH Center. Job seeking skills are a backbone of curriculum and “work habits,” the skills that enable an individual to keep a job, make up 40% of a TECH Center student’s grade. The RJF gives a new level of credibility to all career preparation activities by giving a certain date where these skills will have to be demonstrated to employers with real jobs or internship opportunities. Career preparation staff and our LISD TECH Center Counselor now use the RJF as a focal point to “make it real” for students when helping them craft resumes and portfolios, instead of it being an artificial exercise for a hypothetical employer. Students with Individualized Education Plans (IEPs) are giving additional individual assistance to ensure their readiness for the event. A very critical element of the RJF, maybe the most important in selling a student’s skills to an employer, is the student display. Students are seated, two to a table, at 8' tables, giving them a 4' long space to present themselves and their skills. Students are encouraged to be creative in how they showcase themselves. They are asked to display tangible examples of their work and are required to have a polished resume available to hand out. As employers circulate through the room we have found the displays to be critical conversation starters for the employer looking to explore and evaluate the skill level of the students. Each student is also provided a “baseball card” containing contact information and “statistics” to hand out to employers. Just like a baseball card, the student’s career card showcases the student with an action shot of them performing a task in their program of study on the front. On the back are the student's “statistics,” including: attendance rate, future career goals, skills, honors, and activities. The novelty of these cards makes them a keepsake for students and their families, but also something the employers hold on to for future reference. The program, handed out to employers as they arrive and register for the event, contains the back sides of all the student baseball cards arranged by program, as well as descriptions for all the participating CTE programs along with instructor biographies. Also included is a list of twenty sample questions the employer might consider asking as they interview students. The program becomes a take away for employers that includes the “statistics” and contact information for all participating students. Another feature of the RJF, designed to get students ready for what may be their first interview with an employer, is the Reverse Job Fair Boot Camp. All students from programs taking part in the RJF participate in the Boot Camp. The few seniors who are not taking part in the actual job fair can still benefit from the message and juniors not participating until their senior year will have the RJF on their radar and can begin planning. The Boot Camp is a two-hour workshop, held about a month prior to the RJF, which teaches interviewing skills and soft skills—skills necessary to impress an employer in a face-to-face interview. For the Boot Camp we bring in staff from partner organizations. TLC Credit Union, South Central Michigan Works, Siena Heights University, Michigan State University, and Jackson College have all, at one time or another, contributed staff to provide instruction at the Boot Camp. LISD TECH Center staff are also available to give a final review of each student’s resume prior to the big day. Another element added to the Boot Camp last year was inviting former students, who found employment as a result of a previous RJF, the opportunity to present. These former students, now success stories, spoke about their experience at the Reverse Job Fair and how it lead directly to their current employment. They also credited the Reverse Job Fair for connecting them to an employer who is paying for them to continue their education by enrolling them in Department of Labor recognized apprenticeships, with classes held at the TECH Center through Adult Learning Services. outstanding outcomes Students getting jobs, transitioning from full-time student to full-time employee, is the central objective of the RJF, but not the only successful outcome of the event. The RJF has become a signature event with many positive impacts. A majority of participating students receive an offer for a more extensive interview at the employer’s location in the days and weeks following the job fair. Many receive multiple interview offers. One lesson learned, and now incorporated into the RJF Boot Camp, is teaching students how to politely turn down interviews once they have accepted a position, as not to burn bridges for future opportunities. In our 2015 Reverse Job Fair, 111 students participated and were interviewed by the 25 employers who attended. At least 15 graduating seniors secured full-time employment, with many more obtaining summer, part-time, or co-op opportunities. In 2016, 91 students participated and had a chance to showcase their skills to 32 employers. In the follow-up survey done a few weeks after the event, 21 students reported job offers, some having the luxury to choose between multiple job offers. Even students not receiving an immediate offer of employment benefit by practicing their interviewing skills and having the chance to network with many regional employers, setting the stage for future opportunities. Students are not the only beneficiaries of the RJF. Employers and the LISD TECH Center also benefit. Employers have an annual event they can put on their calendars where they can tap into the region’s talent pipeline. At one time and place they have the opportunity to meet and evaluate close to 100 potential candidates, with a broad range of skill sets, from CTE programs directly related to their businesses. More and more employers now make the RJF a critical part of their overall hiring strategy. For example, Uniloy Milicron, a local manufacturer, hired two students from the inaugural Reverse Job Fair, three more in the second year, and now all five are in Department of Labor recognized apprenticeships, attending evening skilled trades classes through Adult Learning Services at LISD TECH Center. When completed, these young apprentices will have a nationally recognized and portable credential with no out-of-pocket cost to themselves or their families. The LISD TECH Center also benefits by hosting a signature event that draws employers into the building, giving them a better understanding of our programs and capabilities, giving them a first-hand look at where their talent pipeline begins. The coverage by local media has also been a great recruitment tool by promoting our CTE programs to potential future students. importance of Partnerships The LISD Reverse Job Fair would not be possible without our community partners. The concept was developed with the help and support of our workforce development and economic development partners, South Central Michigan Works and Lenawee Now, with each organization promoting the event as a key component in our regional talent pipeline for employers. As previously mentioned, we call on staff from multiple colleges, universities, and local organizations to present at our RJF Boot Camp, and we invite them back to attend the event to see the fruits of their labor. The LISD TECH Center gladly shares credit for the success in the media each year, along with prominently displaying the logos of our partners in the event program. Internally at the Lenawee Intermediate School District, the RJF gets support at all levels, with the assistant superintendent sitting on the planning committee. All building administrators and instructors from participating programs are involved with the planning and are in attendance on the day of the event directing traffic and giving building tours. Leadership at the Lenawee Intermediate School District promotes the event to the community as one of the most important things we do to support students. Fair Supports and Promotes Academic integration All participating LISD TECH Center programs have embedded core curriculum and all offer multiple opportunities for high school credit, granted by their home district, towards graduation. In addition, all programs offer articulated credit and, through our College Now program, any student at the LISD TECH Center has the opportunity for dual enrollment at no cost to the student. Many students who struggle academically in a standard learning environment are able to take advantage of the embedded high school credits and dual-enrollment opportunities with great success. With the Reverse Job Fair creating a context to see the value of these opportunities, it creates the realization for students that planning for the future is critical to their success. Jack Townsley is Supervisor of Placement Services and Adult Learning Services, LISD TECH Center, Adrian, MI.
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