Last Friday’s Career Exploration Day at Central Lakes College was an extraordinary event. An event of this magnitude is unique to the state. As noted in the weekend edition of the Brainerd Dispatch, students from 20 regional high schools learned about career opportunities in a highly interactive way. Over 100 businesses and organizations were represented including Junior Achievement and the U.S. Army and 60 instructional programs from CLC and M State.
Students learned first-hand about a broad spectrum of occupations and career choices by making welds, operating heavy equipment simulators, checking vital signs, writing poetry with refrigerator magnets, refining interviewing skills, troubleshooting equipment, experimenting with different chemicals and elements, and other hands-on activities. The day was well-organized and student focused.
In early January, 200 community business leaders joined college and high school faculty and staff to formally launch the planning for this year’s event. In the weeks leading up to March 9, 10 cluster chairs and their committees met numerous times. College staff took care of the behind-the-scenes logistics. High school personnel arranged the transportation and student schedules. A number of regional foundations, service clubs, organizations, and businesses provided funding. Lunches for 2,600 participants were prepared.
The 2012 Career Exploration Day was a success because of the strong partnership that has been developed between business and industry, the Brainerd Lakes Chamber of Commerce, the Workforce Center, Rural Minnesota Concentrated Employment program, the Department of Employment and Economic Development, high schools from a seven-county area, and Central Lakes College.
Several years ago these partners formalized the collaboration by creating the Bridges Career Academies and Workplace Connection. Bridges began as an initiative of the Brainerd Lakes Chamber of Commerce. The mission of Bridges is to provide high school students with opportunities for career exploration and preparation in high-demand, high-skill occupations.
The annual Career Exploration Day is one of several career exploration activities that are provided through the Bridges program. In addition to the career fairs, high school students can do career exploration through job shadow experiences and business tours. They also learn about occupations and careers in the classroom from business and industry speakers provided by the Bridges Speakers in the Classroom project. All of these activities are coordinated by a full-time Chamber employee.
The preparation for high-demand, high-skill occupations takes place through the Bridges career academies. The academies offer students an academic pathway to obtain the knowledge, skills, and attitudes necessary for employment or further education in the occupational area of their choice. Many of these courses can be taken for college credit through the Post-Secondary Enrollment Options (PSEO) program and Advance Placement courses—saving students time and money.
Connecting students to careers makes sense. There is a growing realization that most jobs of the future will require some post-secondary education. Despite current high unemployment rates, there is also a potential worker shortage looming in the next few years as baby boomers retire or reduce the number of hours at the workplace.
Far too often high schools, colleges and universities, business and industry, and governmental agencies operate independently. As a result, a large number of students do not successfully navigate between levels of education nor do they learn about many occupational choices. The Bridges program helps students make the connections.
The region and communities of Brainerd/Baxter and Staples can take a lot of pride in the Bridges Career Academies and Workplace Connection. Bridges is a great example of what can be accomplished through collaboration, making the systemic changes necessary to better serve all students. It is truly a model for the state. Central Lakes College is proud to be a partner.