How can we help young people dream about their future with greater purpose and intent? Opportunities to explore careers gives students needed perspective to carve out meaningful and personalized career goals. It is essential to help students connect the learning and working phases of their lives to keep them motivated, engaged and graduating.

Career Connected Learning activities can include things like guest speakers, worksite visits, workshops and internships for students to name a few, but these learning experiences require community outreach, engagement, coordination and communication. The North Central Educational Service District (NCESD) Career Connected Learning team is working to meet those needs and support educators and schools to ensure students have equitable opportunities to explore possible career paths.

Career Connected Learning is more important than ever, but at this time coordinating these student experiences also means navigating current public health considerations. ​​13th District State Representative Alex Ybarra, R-Quincy helped the NCESD secure a proviso to expand the number of student opportunities for Career Connected Learning in Grant County.

With this investment, Career Connected Learning kicked off this fall with the launch of a professional guest speaker series for students. In partnership with local educators, students in Quincy, Soap Lake, and Alimra-Coulee-Hartline high schools have been introduced virtually, and in-person when possible, to dozens of business professionals.

Guest speakers in this series are encouraged to share about their career journeys including what they planned, how they got where they are, where they detoured, what they would do differently and what they wished they had known from the start. The goal is to be transparent and real about their experiences. Life simply isn’t a straight line from start to finish; it is a series of stops and starts. Our journeys bob and weave with the circumstances, joys, and challenges life presents along the way.

This approach is working and has students thinking about their future. One Quincy High school junior said, “hearing from this guest speaker made me think about steps I can start taking now in order for myself to be what I want to be later on.”

The authenticity and vulnerability of these professionals is inspirational and motivating to our students while at the same time, fulfilling to the speakers as well. The challenges the past two years have presented, extends to everyone, especially our youth. One of the most impactful guest speakers, shared her journey with mental illness. Since then, mental health as a speaking topic has been one of the most requested subjects by students.

The stories about less linear career paths have students thinking about new terms for success. Almira-Coulee-Harline Senior, “Hearing this guest speaker made me think about how there are multiple career paths I can take. If one does not work out I can always go through another path and learn from those experiences until I find something that fits me best.”

These first-hand experiences highlight messages of resiliency and hope, and practical career advice that anyone could benefit from: find a mentor, or multiple mentors, follow your passions, never give up and never take no for an answer when chasing your dreams, and fail forward, don’t be afraid to make mistakes, just be sure to learn from those mistakes.

Each journey is unique. Students have heard from emergency services employees, government officials, a soldier, a biologist, IT specialists, and recent high school graduates currently attending four-year universities and local community colleges just to name a few.

Students are also picking up essential life skills like how to build a resume to catch the attention of potential employers, managing personal finances, how to budget based on personal income, and what employer benefits are and how they add to the bottom line of a job offer.

The investments in Career Connected Learning experiences for Grant County youth will continue through the spring and expand to worksite learning tours, student workshops, and internships as public health conditions continue to improve.

Cari Horning is a Career Connected Learning Specialist with the North Central Educational Services District. She lives in George.

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