Education to Build Confidence in Career Choices

Education to Build Confidence in Career Choices Main Photo

30 Jan 2023

Workforce Stories

Today’s young adults have numerous and diverse options to pursue as they leave high school. For many, the sheer number of possibilities can lead to confusion around making that decision. Students in the northeastern Minneapolis-St. Paul metropolitan area are fortunate to find some direction from one intermediate school district.

“Over the last decade, the pendulum has moved away from the mindset that every student should pursue a bachelor’s degree after high school,” said Jill Stewart-Kellar, Assistant Director of Career and Technical Education and Principal at Northeast Metro 916 Intermediate School District. “Today, we aim for each student to get what they need versus what every student gets.” 

Complement and capstone

Students from 13 member school districts come to the 916 Career and Tech Center on the Century College campus to attend 916 Career and Tech courses as part of their regular school day. Beyond coursework, students participate in career exploration and employment preparation while gaining the competitive advantage of college credits, industry certifications and scholarships. Last year, nearly 1,000 high school juniors and seniors participated cost-free to the student and earned more than 2,700 college credits, saving them more than $500,000.

Program administration insists students follow their resident high school schedule, taking whatever career pathway courses exist there first. 

“916 Career and Tech Center programs are ‘complement and capstone’ programs,” said Stewart-Kellar. “We work with our member districts to enhance program opportunities, not replace them.”

Programs with a purpose

The 916 Career and Tech Center is for every student, whether they wish to start a career right after high school or use the programs to get a jump start on college. Courses prepare students for entry-level, technical and professional careers within every field, with varying degrees of rigor for each.

“This is not an alternative program, but career and technical education built on various levels of rigor that will work for all,” said Stewart-Kellar. “This allows each student to find their niche, a sense of purpose and gain a competitive advantage for their future.” 

Specific career pathways are wide-ranging, including Information Technology, Animal Science & Natural Resources, Entrepreneurship and Social Media Marketing, Cosmetology, Automotive Technology, Construction, Education, Criminal Justice and Law Enforcement and Dental, EMT & Medical Careers, including Nursing Assistant and Phlebotomy certification opportunities. 

While the courses allow students to start their post-secondary education or apply for graduate programs later, each is immediately in tune with the needs of the workforce environment. Classes align with relevant national associations, institutes and certification organizations, resulting in students receiving specific industry credentials upon completion. With the current landscape of workforce shortages, many students are recruited right out of the 916 Career and Tech Center programs, said Stewart-Kellar. 

“There is a real demand for entry-level and trained mechanics coming out of Automotive Technology,” she said. “With our Dental courses and the ability to step directly into an advanced program at Century College, students can become full-time dental assistants only 15 months after high school graduation.”

Instructors who are experts in their specific industry lead the courses. For example, a 916 Career and Tech Center EMT teacher came from a traditional teaching background and served as a Firefighter and EMT in the City of Woodbury.

“These are highly credentialed, licensed educators with specific skills,” said Stewart-Kellar. “In combination with the high cost, high technology industry equipment at our location, we can serve our member districts in ways they might find difficult to do at their schools.”

Real-world connections

Students at the 916 Career and Tech Center also have exposure to local employers throughout the programming. In one unique program, Mentor Connection, students collaborate with a personal mentor and network with professionals to connect their interests with specific career fields and develop a deeper understanding of what it takes to succeed. 

Internship opportunities exist to use the workplace to earn high school credit while getting paid. In combination with the experiences at 916 Career and Tech, students can build a resume while developing talents and skills in various local business and industry settings.

Many employers interactively participate with 916 Career and Tech. The Nursing Assistant program pairs with local assisted living facilities such as Fairview Woodwinds Hospital in Woodbury, St. John's Hospital in Maplewood, Saint Therese in Woodbury and Lyngblomsten in St. Paul. They offer clinical hours that lead to nursing assistant certification and internship opportunities. More than 75 students are anticipated to achieve certification this year alone. 

Cummins in White Bear Lake is a strong partner in the Diesel Truck and Engine Technology program by bringing the industry to the classroom and the students to the workplace. They provide guest speakers, donate valuable engines for student hands-on work, are a field trip destination, review student resumes, offer internship opportunities to high school students and offer immediate employment to top students after graduation.

Creating confidence

916 Career and Tech Center leaders focus on ensuring the program meets what students and employers need. Advisory boards exist for each program to foster engagement with local employers to ensure equipment is upgraded as needed or provide beneficial field trips and internships.

“Our focus is to help students find their passion and that 100% of our 916 Career and Tech Center students are confident about their plans after graduation,” said Stewart-Kellar.