When Wisconsin’s Safer at Home order went into effect in mid-March, CTE teachers and school counselors were left wondering how students confined at home were going to explore careers. In short order, online job shadows were introduced by INSPIRE Sheboygan County and were an instant hit! The seven-year-old nonprofit community organization is dedicated to introducing students to career experiences and employers, and giving employers a way to reach out to future employees. The 13 sessions offered in April were so popular, INSPIRE offered an additional 14 sessions in May.*
INSPIRE’s Executive Director Nikki Kiss says the program was a team effort. Five days after schools closed, INSPIRE brought together a group that included business people, school counselors, and a superintendent and others from the Sheboygan Area School District to start figuring out how to offer virtual career exploration. (See the full team here.) The team created the job shadow format, solicited business partners, trained coaches, and got the word out to schools in the area. “Together, we can really make some things happen,” says Kiss.
Did they ever! Just three weeks after school closed, INSPIRE Virtual Career Events introduced its first online job shadow, and they haven’t looked back. Kiss acknowledges that with everyone working from home, it’s not the same as an in-person experience. But professionals who have lined up to deliver job shadows are able to show online guests into their work space, talk about what they do, and take questions from students eager to learn more about the profession.
INSPIRE’s April sessions drew nearly 1,000 viewers, some of them repeat customers! “So far, my favorite job shadows have been surgery and anesthesiology, environmental engineering, and project management,” wrote Davis Opel, a senior at Sheboygan North High School and a repeat online fan, “but I am looking forward to the public service and biomedical engineering ones along with the resume-builder sessions.”
Opel shared that the online job shadows have opened his eyes to many new career fields. “They help me recognize ways that I can connect my skills to a specific job, field, or employer,” he says.
Kiss added that the program has unexpectedly brought down barriers for some students. “In the past, we’ve struggled with how to reach middle school students and students who don’t have transportation,” she says. Not so with this program.
Shortly after the program was launched, INSPIRE made the decision to open their sessions to the whole state, but they’ve received interest from 40 adults looking to replicate the program in states from New York to Arizona.
“It’s been mind-blowing,” sums up Kiss. “People are really finding value in the sessions.”
*These sessions were originally promoted through Wisconsin CTE's Facebook and Twitter platforms. To get timely notifications, Like or Friend us @WisconsinCTE.