What do you want to be when you grow up?“ How would you have answered that question when you were 6 years old? Or 13 years old? Or 26? Are you still looking for the answer? Most elementary students will reply with roles they have seen in their community: teacher, doctor, truck driver. Or, they will think of professions they have seen glamorized on television: athlete, detective, performer. The US Department of Labor classifies workers into 840 detailed occupations! (www.bls.gov/soc/) Our youth need exposure to possibilities in order to understand the importance of school subjects and how they relate to the world of work. By the time students are finishing middle school and selecting courses for high school and beyond, this exposure is critical to making informed decisions about the huge array of career opportunities that await. A recent report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics revealed that on average Americans change jobs over 11 times between ages 18 to 48. (www.bls.gov/news.release/pdf/nlsoy.pdf)
Career planning is a life-long endeavor and the first step is to research options. That’s where the Upper Valley Business and Education Partnership (UVBEP) has been playing a role for Lebanon students for over 15 years.
Each Spring, 8th graders go out into the community for Job Shadow Day (JSD). Workplace hosts plan hands-on activities, facility tours and demonstrations to show students what it takes to be successful in their career field. UVBEP provides supporting information, such as job shadowing guidelines, suggested activities, agendas, ice breakers and conversation starters as well as follow up reflection and evaluation forms.
Over the years, sixteen classes of Lebanon 8th graders totaling more than 2,450 students have shadowed at 240+ Upper Valley businesses. The process begins with students completing a Job Shadow survey, which helps them think about what kinds of activities they enjoy and are good at. In addition to asking students what careers they might be considering, the survey encourages students to reflect on:
• WHAT do you like to work with (e.g., tools, textiles, electronics, machines, information)
• WHO do you like to work with (e.g., children, adults, people in need, people who challenge you)
• HOW do you like to work (e.g., alone, in groups, leading people, following directions, sitting, moving)
• WHERE do you like to work (e.g., indoors, outdoors, in a quiet space, surrounded by activity).
Students also have the opportunity to share what skills and strengths they have to offer that will help them succeed in the workplace. Our young people are confident and understand themselves well as these sample responses show:
• I’m a decent manga/anime artist, designing clothing and characters, writing short stories. Hard worker when determined and concentrated, creative doodling, creative thinker.
• I’m very good in math and science, good commitment, understand tech
• I’m a hard worker, good with children, good at following directions, I can think outside the box
UVBEP staff spend the early winter months recruiting employers who can introduce students to a career that uses some of the interest areas they indicated. Communicating with school staff, matching students with available hosts, and working within transportation parameters, UVBEP taps into the generous Upper Valley community.
Finally in March, students receive placement information, and this year over 420 students from 11 middle schools ventured out on April 2, 2015. Shadowing students spend the better part of the day in the workplace, arriving around 8:30 am and staying through the early afternoon. Prior to JSD they receive information about the day, expected attire, and an “interview your workplace host” worksheet to complete and bring back to school. Employers are creative about the ways they welcome the visitors: a sandwich board at the entrance to Lake Sunapee Bank reads “Welcome Job Shadow Students;” Upper Valley Veterinary Services posted a welcome message on their Facebook page; and at Great Eastern Radio, students introduce themselves on air. Students tour workplaces, sit in on meetings, and experiment with tools of the trade—as safety allows. Upon return to school, they participate in a reflection activity, complete an evaluation and write thank-you notes to their hosts. Here’s what some students had to say:
What surprised me most was…
• how much (goes) into bookkeeping and finance
• how much work it takes to manage
• the artificial joints and big words
Most interesting to me was…
• getting to make bone cement
• the costume room
• learning to use math skills
• crime scene analysis
Hundreds of local workplaces are proud to be a part of this community-building program, and this is played out in the number of hosts who give up their time willingly year after year. Ken Davis at the Co-op Food Stores has hosted for 8 consecutive years, allowing students to experiment with website design (coopnews.coop/invasion-of-the-eighth-graders/). Ken says, “Want to regain your faith in humanity? Your hope for the future? Spend your day with a bright, creative young person on Job Shadow Day. I never let them shadow me. I shadow them. I turn them loose then watch in wonder. Thanks to our amazing pals at UVBEP for pulling it off.”
UVBEP is a nonprofit organization serving 20 schools in the greater Upper Valley region of New Hampshire and Vermont. The Partnership facilitates programs that link schools with local employers, including experiential learning and career planning projects for students and professional development activities for educators. To learn more visit www.uvbep.org or www.facebook.com/uvbep.