The Iowa Jobs for America’s Graduates (iJAG) program model is simple: to help young people that struggle, both at home and in school, with cultivating the skills they need to be successful in the classroom, on the job, and in life. In short, to provide them with a means toward self-sufficiency.
As iJAG’s Director of Strategic Advancement since 2016 and the current Interim Vice President, Carly Voltz knows that a simple mission does not necessarily mean an easy mission.
“We’re sort of this unique creature in public education in that we offer an elective course in public, middle, and high schools throughout the State of Iowa,” says Voltz in an interview with VirtualJobShadow.com. “We have 4,500 students in 71 programs spread out over more than 55 schools in Iowa.”
Pre-COVID-19, iJAG provided schools with trained specialists, while the schools provided the space, materials, and integration into the schedule. Employers would frequently visit classrooms to make presentations, critique student work, host mock interviews, and provide mentoring. The classes also provided students hands-on learning opportunities, including job site visits, job shadowing, internships, pre-apprenticeships, summer job training, and employment.
When COVID-19 shut down all in-person activities, Voltz quickly realized that although they could continue to operate, what they offered online simply wasn’t enough. Most importantly, iJAG couldn’t scale up their remote learning in time to keep the program moving forward.
To add to the burden, the schools they had partnered with were all using different career assessment tools, making compiling data extremely difficult.
“I don’t think we had a really great assessment on what sort of environment our students would thrive in,” says Voltz. “And I also don’t think our middle school programs were using career assessments all that often on a consistent basis.”
iJAG needed a one-stop solution that could work for different grade levels, streamline the varied assessment tools, and provide a large library of job shadowing and career exploration videos to their students. They also needed the solution immediately.
When iJAG discovered VirtualJobShadow.com, they found the one-stop partner they were looking for. With FlexLessons, the various teaching tools utilized by teaching staff can be pulled together into one place. In addition, the FlexLessons that prove to engage students the most can easily be shared with all educators and staff, strengthening any program that much faster.
By accessing the vast library of Career Central and Life Skills videos, students can see real-world examples of possible careers and start planning for employment after public education, bypassing the need to visit job sites directly.
Using the platform’s integration with Indeed.com, students are able to complete career exploration and planning research, create a resume using the Resume Builder, and then submit applications directly to local businesses, all without leaving the VirtualJobShadow.com platform.
Making the job search even easier for students is the Work-Based Learning Board. Educators can post job openings manually on a virtual bulletin board, which allows students to apply for those jobs directly and beat the queue of outside applicants.
With VirtualJobShadow.com’s intuitive interface, compiling data can be done at the local, regional, and state level within a single report, using as much or as little detail as needed. VirtualJobShadow.com truly is the one-stop solution when it comes to career exploration, education, and planning.
When launching the VirtualJobShadow.com platform in October 2020, iJAG started with grades 11 and 12. After learning about the breadth and depth of VirtualJobShadow.com’s applications, they opened the platform up to grades 9 and 10, as well as the middle school grades. Although the entire student body within each school did not participate, the middle and high school programs that did participate were fully committed to using VirtualJobShadow.com, giving Voltz and iJAG some much needed data.
“[VirtualJobShadow.com] gave us one consistent tool that we could roll out to our staff,” says Voltz, “and we could get good information back for our staff [because] in classrooms, their [the students’] specialist becomes their go-to person.”
According to Voltz, the top five career cluster interests were Agriculture, Food & Natural Resources, Human Services, Health Science, and Education & Training. The data showed 12,823 site visits, 2,303 total users, 1,296 active users (students that spent 30+ minutes on VirtualJobShadow.com), and 2,369 completed assessments.
In one specific case, iJAG was able to utilize data to connect students to a local welding contractor. By simply evaluating the students’ assessment results iJAG could see which students might be interested in a welding program. From there, the students that pursued further contact with the contractor could earn a certificate.
In the second year with VirtualJobShadow.com, Voltz wants iJAG to leverage the Life Skills videos more by directly integrating them into their already developed PBL (Project-Based Learning) modules. This way, the classroom specialists can immediately see where the Life Skills videos and PBLs align and connect without spending countless hours doing the work on their own.
“We’re taking out the guesswork,” says Voltz.
iJAG plans to increase student participation and engage everyone involved, especially school staff and educators. They’ll be spending the summer training staff, pouring over the assessment data, and offering a roundtable for local businesses to see how iJAG can be a pipeline for the workers they need. They also plan to execute an enthusiastic school-year launch, so that Iowa educators know about the iJAG program and what it offers.
Add to that an ambitious goal of increasing to at least 30 new programs across the state, and iJAG has a busy year ahead.
“My team and I sat down, and at each grade level we had measurements of what we were going to be looking for,'' says Voltz. “What things went well, what things did not go as we planned, and what would have been better measurements. We’ll evaluate that this summer as we move into a new contract.”
By partnering with VirtualJobShadow.com, iJAG now has the tools they need to accomplish their internal evaluation. They will save vast amounts of time by utilizing the built in reports for data analysis, which provide insight into the students they serve. This data will be invaluable as they look to expand, as it can guide how they further integrate and transform the platform to accommodate all of their current and future programs.