Fulton County takes workforce development seriously in order to meet the current as well as future needs of area employers and those seeking to do business in the county. To that end, the Fulton County Center for Regional Growth facilitated bringing Expertise Project to Northville High School in 2021.
“Choosing a career path is a very significant decision in a person’s life,” said Expertise Project’s founder Mike Baron. “It feels like there’s not a great system for making students aware of career opportunities and helping them to move forward.” He and co-founder Daniel O’Sullivan set out to change that, steering completely away from traditional methods such as career days, watching a marketing video, and going on a field trip to a local business.
Their company struck gold with its latest offering, which puts students into an immersive learning experience with several local employers while at the same time creating an engaging tool available for other students in career exploration and employers to use in recruiting new employees.
At Northville High School, students enrolled in an elective class, and over the course of the semester, they created 3D videos of six Fulton County businesses as well as Fulton County Community College.
Guided by social studies teacher John Karbowski, who said he served more as a facilitator than instructor in this class, students brainstormed questions to ask business leaders as well as employees working at the company. “A lot of work was done on the front end with planning out the visits,” said Northville High School’s principal Samuel Ratti. “They were being very purposeful in the planning, so when they went to the actual job sites, they went in with a lot of prior knowledge.”
“They actually developed goal-oriented and industry-specific questions that allowed them to learn about the companies while also discovering what it is that they liked and didn’t like,” Ratti said, noting that since the onset of COVID, he sees more students really searching for a future career that serves their interests, one that they will enjoy.
Students went into a business prepared to find out why a company is successful, why people want to work there, and how a person could transition into professional employment there, Ratti said. “It was truly hands-on learning—understanding what the expectations required are to be successful in life post-high school.” The planning process also helped students think about what they desired to learn about a potential employer.
After this thorough preparation, students visited businesses with video cameras and microphones in hand, where management and employees were ready to be interviewed and give them a tour.
“Students carried around a 360-degree camera everywhere they went,” Baron said. In addition, two other students carried regular video cameras. “They created walk-and-talk interview videos at each location.”
Students, and even their teacher, learned things they did not expect. “The project allowed students to see businesses within Fulton County that I think they knew were there but they may not have realized exactly what is done there,” Karbowski said. “It was an outstanding and eye-opening experience even as an adult.”
The students learned that there are multiple opportunities at a company. For example, at Townsend Leather in Johnstown, a great deal of science goes into the leather preparation process, but there are also design opportunities for the various products the company designs for its niche market, as well as graphic design, marketing, and manufacturing positions, among others. “It was great for our students to realize that whatever their interest is, there’s a piece of that that fits into that bigger picture of the manufacturing industry,” Ratti said.
Creating these types of connections between schools and industry is a critical piece of successful workforce development. “In talking with these businesses, we realized that there is this blossoming population of the emerging workforce that didn’t realize how many connections there were within 15 to 20 minutes of where they all live,” Ratti said.
Expertise Project has a symbiotic effect, serving both students and employers. The interviews informed employers about students’ curiosities, giving them clues about how their company can tailor its recruitment efforts towards the next generation of workers. In addition, with a pair of 3D goggles, employers could use the videos as a recruiting tool at job fairs.
An unintended benefit was that students were able to see alumni from their high school who were now employed locally. “They might think, ‘If they can do it, I can do it, too,’” Ratti said. “That was a pretty powerful part.”
The interviews also served as quasi, low-pressure job interviews, Baron said. “They’re just sitting there for two hours talking about the job,” he said, noting that students in other counties ended up getting job offers from a company where they conducted interviews. During interviews, employers could assess a student’s skill set, and students could learn what was needed to obtain a job at that company.
The project has prompted some of the Northville students to apply for jobs at the companies they were exposed to during the project. “A number of students are actively pursuing interviews and employment at these companies, and it wouldn’t have been had it not been for this job site business,” Ratti said.
“The model we’ve adopted now is an engage, enrich, enlist model,” Baron said.
The project enlists students in an appealing way by putting video cameras in their hands to conduct interviews at local companies. Their work enriches the knowledge of other students, and VR headsets engage students in learning about the opportunities that exist for them close to home.
School districts can also subscribe to have access to the dozens of videos that Expertise Project has produced, offering teachers and guidance counselors an engaging tool for making students aware of the career opportunities available to them
“Expertise Project is an example of how Fulton County put the businesses and the students together to make students aware,” Baron said.
Post-interviews, Expertise Project took the raw footage that students themselves filmed and condensed it into a 15-minute video that can be viewed in 3D with a pair of virtual reality (VR) goggles. “We want that video to be an educational tool,” Karbowski said. “The audio and video can be used for middle school and lower high school as students think about what they want to do post-high school.” This way, Expertise Project students have a lasting impact on workforce development.
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