As Intermediary Network Coordinator for the Iowa Valley Community College Continuing Education division, Terri Hungerford serves as a liaison between 9th through 12th grade students and businesses in central Iowa. Comprised of 14 different school districts, with approximately 4,000 students grades 9 – 12 in 15 schools scattered across four counties, the Iowa Valley Intermediary Network is not the largest community college district in the state, says Hungerford, but it’s the most centrally located.
Demographically, the region is rural, with a majority immigrant population. The largest high school has a student population of 1,700, with 400 students in one grade level, and the smallest school, totaling about 100 students, averages 25 students per class.
Providing the links that enhance career exploration is a critical part of what Hungerford does for the high school student population throughout Iowa Valley.
“A teacher may call us and express a desire to have their class job shadow with a particular business, or experience a business tour,” says Hungerford. “We make the arrangements and coordinate the details. Or we may facilitate a job fair or a work-related event. Anytime our students can learn more about careers and career exploration, we are the liaison.”
Hungerford works primarily with high school teachers, administrators, and counselors who are often overwhelmed and don’t have time to make the work experience connection. That’s why she was excited to learn about VirtualJobShadow.com.
VirtualJobShadow.com Comes into Play
In her position for nearly three years, Hungerford says she learned of VirtualJobShadow.com through her colleagues about six months after she took the job. By fiscal year 2017, the Iowa state government had made the decision not to re-fund its own free career exploration piece, which factored into the decision to pursue a new career exploration tool.
“We had heard wonderful things about the VirtualJobShadow.com program,” she says, “and with support from our administration, decided our grant funds could be used to help introduce high school students to different careers.” Having teens of her own, she realized this was an age when few kids knew what they wanted to do in their future work lives.
Setting the new Career Exploration Program in Motion
VirtualJobShadow.com was purchased for 5,000 students in November, 2015 and introduced to students and instructors the next month.
“In the beginning, we tried to get all of our schools onboard,” says Hungerford, “but some had their own career development piece in place. However, at least six of our schools, 9th through 12th grades, have been using the program regularly. This past year, we made the decision to add 8th grade students to VirtualJobShadow.com as well.”
In addition to facilitating Career Exploration in the district schools, Hungerford adds individual high school students for job shadowing, and assists teachers by providing presentations in the classroom to explain and demonstrate VirtualJobShadow.com.
Usage of VirtualJobShadow.com depends on the time of year, says Hungerford, but to date about 2,000 students are registered in grades 8th through 12th. The Health Science Career Cluster is the most viewed, she says, followed by Law Enforcement. Advanced manufacturing comes in a close third.
“These are all jobs that relate to what’s going on in our local job markets,” says Hungerford. “But students also use it for college searches and that’s been really helpful because they may know what career they want to pursue, but have no idea if the college of their choice offers the courses required. This gives them more tools to take the steps they need to move forward.”
Positive Impacts; Reality Aspects
Hungerford is often witness to what younger students, in particular, look for in Career Exploration, and it’s not always based on realism.
“For 8th and 9th graders, it’s usually how much money they can make,” she explains. “That seems to be huge for many of them. But if the career choice requires math or science, and they don’t like those subjects, or they are getting poor grades, we can now, with VirtualJobShadow.com, redirect them toward starting positions. For example, if a student wants to become an anesthesiologist but cannot pass anatomy, we can direct that student to enroll in CNA courses to help build their confidence in themselves, as well as gain employment while working up the career ladder.”
“The program offers, in a positive way,” she says, “details about what jobs are available, actual earnings, and the education they will need, preventing the student from becoming overwhelmed or not pursuing a career at all.”
This “reality check,” she adds, is especially important with 8th graders, who may need to gain insight in middle school before they can pursue attainable career goals through high school.
Furthermore, through exposure to all types of careers, including “middle skills” jobs, all students can learn that it’s acceptable to change their career goals along the way.
Career Exploration Benefits
“By exploring hundreds of careers, Hungerford says, “they learn through VirtualJobShadow.com they don’t have to do something they don’t enjoy. That’s what we want for ourselves, and what we want for our children.”
For educators, she says, the platform allows instructors to help students understand that what is taught in the classroom can realistically apply to their career search.
She believes that community colleges which utilize technology like VirtualJobShadow.com can provide a valuable, effective way to balance the needs of all students, not just those who plan to pursue traditional higher education.
“We provide a stepping stone for students who are undecided about their career path, or know that a four-year college may not be their path,” she says. “And VirtualJobShadow.com provides a tool for us to help students become more productive in the workforce by finding and building a career that is right for them.”
VirtualJobShadow.com provides career exploration resources for K-12, post-secondary institutions, and workforce development programs nationwide. To learn more, please visit VirtualJobShadow.com.