Education

Career Pathways program shows students they can succeed in Marion

MEDCO partners with Linn-Mar, Marion schools for workforce retention

Students Wednesday tour a new innovation lab at UnityPoint Health-St. Luke's Hospital in Cedar Rapids as Rose Hedges, St
Students Wednesday tour a new innovation lab at UnityPoint Health-St. Luke’s Hospital in Cedar Rapids as Rose Hedges, St. Luke’s Nursing Research and local MakerNurse Champion, talks to them about the space. Students learned how the lab allowed nurses to create innovations to help patients. The tour is part of a new program to show schoolchildren career possibilities close to home. (Andy Abeyta/The Gazette)
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MARION — Before students in the Linn-Mar and Marion school districts graduate, a local development organization wants them to know they don’t need to leave to find jobs — that there are career opportunities in their own backyard.

A new program, Career Pathways, launched last month through the Marion Economic Development Corp., takes a student’s career interests and pairs them with classes already offered in the school district.

“Career Pathways says you don’t have to go out of Marion to access these amazing career opportunities,” said Kiley Haines, an eighth-grade high school prep teacher at Oakridge Middle School. “I think it opens a lot of minds for our eighth-graders and focuses on this time to explore jobs.”

Haines said using Career Pathways has been “eye opening” for her students as they make their four-year plans for high school.

“There’s been some ‘ah-ha’ moments and light bulbs that have gone on by using this tool,” she said. “I think it’s beneficial for students who are interested in all types of the workforce, and it doesn’t focus only on jobs beyond college.”

Career Pathways doesn’t concentrate only on careers that require a four-year college degree. It encourages students to explore trade school and other careers with a high workforce demand.

Part of a ‘Community Promise’ at MEDCO

Career Pathways is a part of MEDCO’s “Community Promise,” which is a workforce retention program unveiled in March 2017 that seeks to connect students with future job opportunities in the Corridor.

By visiting medcoiowa.org, students can take a career assessment through Future Ready Iowa, which shows them job opportunities available within a 50-mile radius of Marion and lets them browse local careers, including job descriptions, salaries and what education or certification is needed.

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Emily Russ, business engagement specialist at MEDCO, worked with counselors at Linn-Mar and Marion school districts to create it.

She visits classes weekly, introducing Career Pathways to students and encouraging them to explore for themselves what their future may look like. She estimates that over 1,000 students have engaged with Community Promise in the past two years.

“We want them to know there’s a place for them here and a role for them to play in our community,” Russ said.

Over 60 local companies and 100 workforce professionals are plugged into Community Promise, offering to talk to students about what a career in their field may look like, arrange job shadows and even internships.

Program has workforce retention benefits

Excelsior Middle School eighth-grade high school prep teacher Kim Sleezer said Career Pathways provides students with more information than ever about what career opportunities are available in Marion and how students can get in touch with business professionals to learn more.

“I think this will really improve the impact for our students because of the direct identification of classes that fit into their particular career pathway,” she said.

Not only does the program aim to prepare students for life after high school, it strives to retain a young workforce.

Hupp Electric Motors and Hupp Toyota Lift opened offices in Marion three years ago, but the workforce is spread across Eastern Iowa and Peoria, Ill.

Kevin Hupp, president of the companies, said that workforce is aging as there are employees who have been with the company for up to 40 years who are looking toward retirement.

New employees are needed in the “highly technical” field, he said.

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“We fully train anyone who shows some interest in our business,” Hupp said, adding that of the 240 employees, 130 of them are in Marion.

Through Community Promise, Hupp Electric Motors and Hupp Toyota Lift hosts a lot of classroom tours, Hupp said.

Not only does it introduce students to a career, but it introduces future potential clients to the business.

“In time, I’m hoping this will work for us where people want to stay here in Marion, and we certainly would love to give them a job,” he said.

Comments: (319) 368-8664; grace.king@thegazette.com

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