Program aims to connect local students, businesses

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Jim Leute
Wednesday, May 8, 2013

— Connecting local students and employers is the goal of a web-based program that could debut this fall in middle schools across Rock County.

The idea, proponents say, is to develop local talent to address the area's workforce development needs.

The program—Inspire Wisconsin-Rock County—is a web-based career and readiness platform that will include career development tools, social media elements and local workforce data. It's designed to be a direct connection between students and businesses, with input and access for educators and parents.

The idea is to nurture future employees by connecting and mentoring with them early in their career development phases, said James Otterstein, Rock County's economic development manager and a member of Rock County 5.0.

Rock County 5.0 is partnering with the Southwest Wisconsin Workforce Development Board, local school districts, colleges and businesses on the program.

"A student's first exposure to career and occupation paths usually occurs in junior high school, and that information is now heavily dominated by the home front and the school district," Otterstein said. "We thought this would be a perfect opportunity to tie everything together in one centralized, comprehensive system that's open to all students and all employers, regardless of their size."

Otterstein said the program would allow students to investigate careers and companies in Rock County. It also would include internship, job shadowing and employment opportunities for young people.

"Students and businesses will have the opportunity to populate their profiles," he said. "From the students' perspective, it will be tied into their academic profile.

"Employers can do as much or as little as they want with their profile and indicate whether they would interact with students as coaches or mentors and whether they offer job shadowing, mentorships or speakers."

The initiative is a response to a survey last year of 2,500 Rock County students about their career aspirations and whether they plan to go on to school, enter the military or join the workforce.

The results indicated:

-- Sixty percent plan to go to a four-year college or university, while 19 percent plan to pursue a technical or associate degree.

-- Of those thinking about technical careers, just 2.1 percent indicated an interest in manufacturing.

-- The majority of kids start thinking about careers in middle school.

-- Most want more information on careers.

-- Seventy percent said they had no exposure to a class, program, internship or co-op program that would prepare them for their chosen career field.

"This will be a uniform platform for all districts in Rock County and, if it works as we think it will work, will be very cool for online explorations," said John Beckord, president of Forward Janesville.

"If I'm a student with a mild interest in a particular profession, I could chat with local companies in that profession about what its like to be, for example, a logistics coordinator. That's tremendously valuable."

Otterstein said program briefings are underway with representatives of the education and business community. He said Rock County 5.0 hopes to have formal agreements with all local school districts in place this summer so the program can launch this fall.

Last updated: 10:38 am Tuesday, July 2, 2013

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