This is the sixth in a series of articles, written by Christina Brown, that show how community members are using the Pathway to Student Success. The Pathway was created and endorsed by local youth and adults as a guide to engage everyone in building strong community by supporting youth on their journey to becoming the next generation of skilled workers, engaged citizens and civic leaders.
By Christina Brown
A young person’s path to a good job is more complex than ever. Leaders across Northern Minnesota are responding to these complexities and clearing the way for the next generation of students, workers and leaders.
“It used to be you could graduate from high school and get a great job,” said Michelle Ufford, executive director of the Northeast Office of Job Training. “Now there aren’t any jobs that pay a family-sustaining livable wage with just a high school diploma. The employer landscape is changing.”
This changing workplace drives one of the goals of the Pathway to Student Success developed by the Itasca Area Initiative for Student Success (IAISS): Every student will enroll in and complete a degree, certification or other training program after high school.
“Including this goal in the Pathway is really smart,” said Ufford. “You can’t have a successful educational system and a successful community without some sort of post-secondary educational component.”
Paul Undeland, thermal business operations manager at Minnesota Power and a member of the Student Success Core Team, agreed.
“We live in a world that is growing by leaps and bounds,” Undeland said. “A lot of positions that weren’t highly technical are today. It’s important for students to get some advanced training to better prepare for those positions.”
Ufford said the Office of Job Training’s latest project, Northeast Career EdVenture, provides career planning resources for high school students and guidance counselors, and connects the business community to schools through guest speakers, career fairs and mock job interviews. The goal is to create an educated workforce to meet an ever-growing need for skilled workers.
“Everyone needs some type of training after high school, but it doesn’t have to be a four-year degree,” said Ufford. “There are a variety of educational opportunities from vocational programs to on-the-job training to apprenticeships that can lead to great paying jobs. The important thing is that students take the time to discover their interests, which occupations are best suited for them, and what path they need to take to get there.”
Programs like Upward Bound and Talent Search at Itasca Community College also help students make the move from high school to college graduate. High school students involved in this multi-year program participate in a variety of educational and college and career planning experiences.
“When you look at the wages in our region and how little they’ve increased, you see how difficult it is for families to come out of that unless education is involved,” said Darlene Freeman, director of Upward Bound and Talent Search and member of the Student Success Core Team. “Education is really a key to stepping into a better lifestyle.”
Freeman said Upward Bound and Talent Search work hard to build connections with students.
“It can take a lot of courage to go to college, and if we can help them make those initial steps, that’s half of it,” said Freeman.
UMD sophomore Katie LaPlant of Grand Rapids said the experiences she had in Upward Bound made a huge difference in her life.
“I’m not sure where I would be right now,” said LaPlant, who now works as a resident advisor for Upward Bound. “There are so many options out there for students and it’s hard when it’s just you and your family looking at colleges. Upward Bound broadened my horizons. It allowed me to see all my options and to make a lot of friends. It really helped me to come out of my shell.”
Ensuring students enroll in some kind of training after high school isn’t just good for the student, it’s good for the regional economy.
“It puts us in a better position to attract new businesses,” Ufford said. “We can tout the quality of our workforce. When we are able to provide relevant training to our economy it can help us retain the businesses we have. The region will be much better off in the long run.”
Undeland said that the Pathway goal that students will enroll in and complete a degree, certification, or other training program after high school is just one key to a community’s success.
“It’s not just about higher education and jobs,” said Undeland. “It’s important that all of the steps along the Pathway are followed for long term success. We need a commitment from our community and our educators for that success. It really does take a village.”