Reverse job shadow program benefits all

March 15, 2009
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Yes, it’s for the kids, but it’s for the adults too. The Right Place Inc.’s Manufacturers Council recently partnered with Junior Achievement of the Michigan Great Lakes to bring the nation’s first manufacturing J.A. Reverse Job Shadow program to Northview High School.

Roughly 20 representatives from area manufacturing companies recently visited Northview to show 10th graders how the lessons they are learning in school apply in the professional world. The March 9 event put manufacturing professionals in classes such as math, art, social studies, and even American Sign Language.

“From the Manufacturers Council side there are really two things. First is really to help the kids relate to what they learn in school and how that relates to the business world. If you remember back to high school and ‘Why do I need to learn geometry’ or whatever — we want to make that connection for them,” said Nancy Ayres, general manager of Flexco and a Manufacturers Council member. “The second is really for us. We really want to get the word out that manufacturing is not dead. It’s evolving, but still, one in five jobs in West Michigan is with a manufacturing-related facility. In the future there are going to be a lot of opportunities for students.”

Ayres noted that as baby boomers retire, more and more jobs are going to open up. She pointed out that low-skill jobs are disappearing and future jobs in manufacturing will require more than just a high school degree.

“The really low-skilled jobs are gone. Those have gone offshore. If you’re going to get into manufacturing, first and foremost, you’re going to need more education than you have in the past. You’ve got to look at technical degrees or two-year degrees,” said Ayres.

“We also really wanted to focus on the other things you don’t think about in manufacturing. We still have accountants and human resources and marketing. We really wanted to show the breadth and depth of what a manufacturing career could be, but also you can’t just drop out of school or a lot of times come to us with just a high school education and expect to work in one of our facilities. It’s just not going to happen.”

Junior Achievement originally developed the Reverse Job Shadow program in response to tighter and tighter education budgets. The number of students being able to go on location through field trips dwindled, so J.A. decided to bring the professionals to the students.

“It really is that relevance piece,” said Lisa Hegenbard, director of education for J.A. of The Michigan Great Lakes. “It’s about showing kids that the jobs are still here for them locally and that what they’re learning in the classroom connects. Sometimes they don’t even know or understand at that point, but they can learn about career paths and companies locally.”

Ayres said the added benefit of this program is that both the teachers and business-world professionals are able to learn from each other in addition to what the students learn.

“A side benefit of this too, for us as business people, is to be able to walk in the shoes of an educator for a day. I think sometimes it’s easy to cast stones. It’s easy to sit in the business world and say, ‘Hey, they’re not giving us what we need on the education side.’ Well, let’s go walk in their shoes for a day and see what issues they have and how hard of a job they have. This is step one,” said Ayres. “I just hope we can continue to build that relationship between business and education on many levels, so we can help each other, which ultimately helps the student, which ultimately helps all of us.”

Northview High School was a natural setting for the program’s first run, said Ayres, who described the school as one that “gets it,” referring to the relationship between education and business. Northview even goes so far as to print an “Employability Skills Rubric” on each report card. The rubric assesses students in topics such as attendance, professionalism, time management, collaboration and completion of quality work on time. The school also employs Kathi Wasserman as a school-to-career adviser — a position that is dwindling around the region but that Northview sees as a critical component.

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