Inspiring Waukesha County Students

By: Susan Koehn, Director, Talent Initiatives, Milwaukee7

This article originally appeared in our October 2018 Accelerate Waukesha County magazine.

As southeast Wisconsin continues to grow, talent is needed to drive economic growth. Today, workers are in short supply to replace retiring baby boomers and fill new jobs created, even using modest economic forecasts. Employers at the forefront of competition for scarce talent are asking for help getting in front of young people and their influencers earlier, while career decisions are being made.

Early Career Experiences Matter

Recognizing this challenge, the M7 Regional Talent Partnership is focused on partnering with local chambers and economic development organizations such as the Waukesha County Business Alliance and Waukesha County Center for Growth to increase the number of young people entering the pipeline for our key industries. We are doing this by reaching students earlier and playing a direct role in their academic and career planning. There is growing evidence that early experiences influence what career paths students pursue after high school.

The M7’s GROW HERE Campaign was launched in 2016, focused on connecting industry and education to help emerging talent explore careers, develop workplace skills and get hooked on the career opportunities available in southeast Wisconsin. If enough employers engage young local talent in career mentoring, tours, job shadows, internships and apprenticeships across the region, we can collectively drive talent pipeline development for high-demand jobs and entice young talent to stay and GROW HERE.

Academic and Career Planning

The state’s Academic and Career Planning (ACP) implementation has helped to build the critical bridge between education and industry. A web-based platform called Career Cruising supports students’ career exploration and the development of individual Academic and Career Plans. Inspire, an add-on to Career Cruising, enhances ACP by facilitating real world connections with employers and local professionals. Through Inspire, employers create company profiles to highlight their business and communicate areas of need to future talent. Employees volunteer to answer company and career-related questions from students on discussion boards. Students and educators can request career-based learning opportunities directly through the platform, including tours, job shadows, summer employment, internships and apprenticeships.

Waukesha County school districts are using Inspire in a variety of ways to educate students on available career pathways. Students have the chance to learn about companies and industries before participating in the Alliance’s Schools2Skills™ program or attending one of the Alliance’s career expos. As districts embed Career Cruising and Inspire in Academic and Career Planning, students across the region are viewing career pages, employer profiles, career and company discussion boards and saving them to their personal plans. This valuable data allows us to track trends over time and analyze where Inspire is driving impact.

For example, last fall—after Foxconn announced its investment to create an LCD manufacturing facility in southeast Wisconsin—we saw a significant jump in career page views and student saves for electrical engineering careers on the Inspire platform. The number of students saving “electrical engineer” to their Academic and Career Plans more than quadrupled from spring to fall 2017.

We see similar jumps in activity on career discussion boards following regional events like the Waukesha County Business Alliance’s Many Futures in Health Care Career Pathways Expo. Students were expressing interest in entry-level positions, internships and job shadowing opportunities from Waukesha County health care providers.

Our collective efforts are beginning to demonstrate influence on the career paths students consider. An analysis of Inspire data within Waukesha County school districts showed that career interests become more realistic between 9th and 12th grade, with “physical therapist” and “mechanical engineer” entering the Top 10 Careers of Interest, replacing careers like “professional athlete” and “animator.” Efforts such as the Alliance’s M.A.D.E. (Manufacturing, Automotive, Design and Engineering) Career Pathways Expo and Schools2Skills™ have contributed to this progress.

With these early glimmers of success, we’re determined to increase the number of employers and career coaches participating on Inspire in 2018-19, especially in our region’s key industries. Please visit m7talentpartnership.org to learn more and participate in building the talent pipeline that will fuel our region’s growth.