Panel on Career Exploration Fridays brings together educators and business

Career Exploration Fridays, a program to help students find and pursue career and education pathways by interacting with local businesses, was the center of discussion on Wednesday, Jan. 24, during a panel of educators and business representatives at the Snoqualmie Valley Chamber of Commerce luncheon.

Six panelists, including representatives from the Snoqualmie Valley School District, Snoqualmie-based businesses, and the Snoqualmie Valley Community Network spoke about the feedback received and lessons learned from the Career Exploration Friday program which started last November.

The event brought high school students from Mount Si and Two Rivers to visit Technical Glass Products and Spacelabs Healthcare to learn about potential career opportunities and examine pathways into various careers. Students spoke with employees about the steps they took to enter into their careers through education, technical training and work experience.

The school district, chamber of commerce and community network partnered to get the program off the ground. The program is intended to help students with their post-high school plans and get them access to learn about opportunities they might never have known existed.

Assistant Superintendent of the Snoqualmie Valley School District Jeff Hogan, Mount Si High School Assistant Principal Jerry Maher, and Two Rivers School Principal Rhonda Schmidt represented the school district in the panel discussion last week. Director of Human Resources at Technical Glass Products Janice Evans and Human Resources Manager at Spacelabs Jen Robichaud represented their businesses. Laura Smith, Executive Director of the Snoqualmie Valley Community Network, brought some of the data that had been collected from the employers and students about their experiences in the program.

Both Robichaud and Evans said the career exploration program is needed to help give students an idea of what kinds of education or training they need to enter jobs similar to the ones they saw in their November visits to the companies.

“Getting kids out and seeing what type of careers are available is critical,” Evans said. “For the businesses in the Valley, it’s awesome to see we can help support you by bringing youth into our workplace and educating them.”

Robichaud said the employees at Spacelabs who participated in the event felt they were able to connect with the students and wanted even more time to discuss education and career development.

“Our employees talked about how fun it was, that it wasn’t long enough, it should have run longer, they wished they had more opportunity to interact with the students. They really had a great time,” she said.

Robichaud said they tried to get employees with a broad range of backgrounds and experiences into the group, to include people who were in the military, people who followed a traditional four-year program, and people who were not working in the area of expertise for which they went to college.

Smith said that post-event surveys with the employers showed a similar response from both companies. The employees who got to interact with students wanted more time to get into the details. Smith also shared some of the survey results she received from students.

“Eighty-nine percent of the students felt they left the event with a better understanding of possible career paths,” she said. “Nine out of 10 of the kids who were there had a better understanding of the opportunities available to them and 95 percent of the students also said that they understood there is more than one path to career success.”

The majority of students also reported seeing a greater connection with what they were learning in high school and the pathways that they got to explore on the first Career Exploration Friday, Smith said.

Maher, who works on college and career readiness at Mount Si, said the goals of this program have aligned with the district’s strategic plan for preparing students for life beyond high school. The program, he said, helps provide equal access to opportunities for students to engage with business and post-secondary training and education, whether it been in a skilled trade or college.

Career Exploration Fridays fit in with the other steps the district is taking, such as increasing the chances for students to be able to earn college credits.

Moving forward, Maher said businesses reaching out to the school district would be a great way to form future partnerships to look at intern, mentor, and apprenticeship programs. A possible future job fair at Mount Si High School is another one of the events the school is using to help students build their high school and beyond plans.

Career Exploration Fridays will continue in 2018 and are expected to be a recurring program. Robichaud said the effects of the first event are still being felt many months later, as students are staying in contact with the businesses they visited.

“We had some follow-up calls with students who wanted to have an interview with (an employee) to be able to learn a little bit more about what their path looked like for them and what that path might be if (the student) were pursue that as a career,” she said.

Rhonda Schmidt, principal of Two Rivers School, talks about the district’s goals of promoting post-secondary planning and educating the students about the types of opportunities available. (Evan Pappas/Staff Photo)

Rhonda Schmidt, principal of Two Rivers School, talks about the district’s goals of promoting post-secondary planning and educating the students about the types of opportunities available. (Evan Pappas/Staff Photo)