Daylong event offers island students an in-person look at career and educational opportunities post-graduation
If you were out and about in Rockland on Friday, March 29th, you might have seen groups of students from Islesboro, North Haven and Vinalhaven visiting different area businesses and organizations to learn about available career options and educational opportunities. From the arts and retail to marine trades and finance (and many other sectors), these students got an in-person look at some familiar and new ideas about work options in the Midcoast during the Career Day event.
Jess Woods, the school counselor and Pathways coordinator for Islesboro Central School helped plan the event as part of the Island Institute’s career education strategy called Compass, which is aligned with the Maine Spark goal of 60% of Mainers attaining a credential of value by 2025.
The event was designed to be different from other career fairs where businesses gather in one location and students interact with the representatives. Instead, we decided to bring the students to the businesses. The goal was to expose students to career areas that they might be interested in but also give them the chance to learn about options that they may have never considered before. Based on the feedback we got from the students, teachers, and business owners, this approach was a good one, and three key takeaways emerged from the day.
First, hands-on and experiential learning opportunities received high marks. The groups that visited The Apprenticeshop got to work on wooden boat projects and those who went J Edward Knight to learn about the insurance industry did so through a game of Kahoot. Said one student, "I liked the interactive/engaging presentation they gave. I really learned a lot about the world of insurance!"
The next takeaway was that there are a lot of options in this area that students don’t know necessarily know much about. Touring the new Mid-Coast School of Technology building was very exciting, not just because of the impressive facility, but also because of the expanded offerings it will bring. Students expressed interest in nursing and welding, two fields that have great workforce needs. A number of students commented on the importance of learning about the trades more broadly; "I was inspired to think more about the trades because of how valuable they are today."
Back Cove Yachts was also a hit. One teacher observed that "many students did not even know this company existed in Rockland, and many were very impressed with the work atmosphere." The fact that workers can be trained on the job and that most positions require only a high school diploma was also an eye-opener for students. At Rockland Animal Hospital, we learned that there is a shortage of licensed veterinary technicians across the state. The students who visited Center for Maine Contemporary Art loved seeing the exhibits and learning about the many different careers that have to do with the arts. Going behind the desk and into the garage at Eastern Tire also made a big impression with one student observing, "I learned more here than I have learned anywhere!"
The third takeaway was two-fold—the businesses that students were already familiar with as customers look very different from the worker side, and "soft skills," such as providing good customer-service, can be as important as knowledge of the technical aspects of the business. Of their session at Camden National Bank, students noted that "banks are about people, not just counting money" and "it was interesting to hear about how working at a bank includes many other different skills—which I would not have expected." At the hospitality and service/retail sector businesses we visited, including Clan MacLaren, Main Street Markets, Archipelago, Green With Envy Salon and Rockland Harbor Hotel, students picked up on how nice and friendly the workers were and how much that matters. Finally, the students who met with an officer from the Rockland Police Department learned that caring about people and wanting to help them in times of need are core aspects of law enforcement.
At the end of the day, students returned to the Island Institute for a panel discussion with staff members who shared their career paths in aquaculture, the arts and retail, journalism, and new media. Students were advised to keep an open mind about career options and to follow their interests and passions. Teachers and business owners saw value in the day and had many ideas about how to build on this event. Said one teacher, "I think exposure to a wide range of career possibilities is important. Students only see a fragment of the job market on the islands, and there is so much more to explore. I know my students would also benefit from job shadow and internship opportunities off-island."
We will keep this suggestion and all the others in mind as we continue to support island students and schools.