Oklahoma City Public Schools
On any given day, at any of the high schools in the Oklahoma City Public Schools district, the parking lots are full of cars. Very few of those vehicles, however, are driven by students. Instead, the students in this large, urban district rely on the city’s limited public transportation system to get not only to school, but any place else they need to go.
This creates a challenge for the Career and Technical Education (CTE) department where all the students are required to complete job shadowing experiences: How to transport students to business locations cost effectively and time efficiently.
According to DJ Watts-Bowker, Business and Industry Career Development Coordinator at the district, it is nearly impossible. “I would set up great experiences for the kids, but they wouldn’t be able to get to them. They don’t have access to cars so I’d try to arrange for bus transportation, which means not only a bus but a bus driver, and the cost to transport a handful of kids to a particular business location would be a few hundred dollars. It was too expensive.”
And yet the cost of not providing job shadow experiences is even higher. In an April 2012 article in Time magazine, Rana Foroohar discussed the double-digit unemployment rates among new college grads, concluding that many students graduate with “no marketable skills” and that our country, “doesn’t do much to connect educators with corporations doing the hiring.” She also shared Harvard Business School professor Rosabeth Moss Kanter’s belief that “as much as a third of the increase in unemployment in the Great Recession can be attributed to this mismatch between skills and jobs.”
Adequately preparing students for the workplace, then, is crucial to success.
And JOB SHADOW programs have proven SUCCESSFUL in this area.
U.S. Senator Richard Burr of North Carolina was quoted in a recent Junior Achievement white paper stating that “. . . students need to have opportunities through hands-on activities such as internships and job shadowing to experience and understand the connections between what they are learning in the classroom and what skills they will need in the working world.”
To provide those opportunities to the Oklahoma City Public Schools students, the College and Career Readiness department turned to VirtualJobShadow.com as an alternative to traditional job shadowing. The interactive career exploration product has provided the district with a high-quality, cost-effective digital job shadow experience for their students since 2006.
Watts-Bowker has been impressed by VirtualJobShadow.com since first using it as a CTE teacher. “The engaging videos actually show what is involved in the various jobs rather than just talking about them,” says Watts-Bowker. “This makes the experience more engaging for the students and more like in- person, traditional job shadowing.”
To be sure, a benefit to Watts-Bowker and her team of CTE teachers is that they no longer have to struggle with transportation issues for the students. “Some of our federal funding requires that we provide job shadowing experiences for our students. VirtualJobShadow.com allows us to meet that requirement.”
That federal funding also comes with time-consuming accountability requirements.
“Accountability reports take up a big chunk of our teachers’ time,” says Watts-Bowker. The district has an extended school year wherein the teachers spend the last week filling out paperwork and writing reports. Watts-Bowker knew that there had to be a way to reduce the reporting demands so she turned to the VirtualJobShadow.com team. “We talked about creating usage reports to show everything that the students did on VirtualJobShadow.com throughout the year. These reports are now available to the teachers – showing usage by student, classroom, or school – and they make accountability so much easier.”
This demonstrates what Watts-Bowker believes is another benefit of the product: The company’s desire to continually enhance and improve the product based on the feedback from its customers. In fact, says Watts-Bowker, “I’m talking to them now about a new reporting feature and about different administrative editing capabilities. I’m really keeping the programmers busy!” As VirtualJobShadow.com evolves, Watts-Bowker sees the future in regionalization. “Oklahoma is an energy state and getting our students exposed to more local energy companies will help us to provide those companies with more and better skilled workers.” She believes that the regionalization features that VirtualJobShadow.com is working on will greatly benefit the students – and the businesses – in Oklahoma City. This belief is shared by Kim Celentano, VirtualJobShadow.com’s CEO and President. Celentano says that the company is currently focusing its efforts on creating regional platforms for in- demand careers. This development will meet the needs not just of Oklahoma City, but regions across the U.S. that want to encourage their students to seek jobs at local businesses.
In the 7 years since the Oklahoma City Public Schools district started using VirtualJobShadow.com, thousands of students have benefited from true job shadow experiences without ever having to leave the classroom. In today’s financial climate, almost all school districts are challenged with transportation and cost issues. The success that the Oklahoma City Public Schools district has had using VirtualJobShadow.com shows that those challenges can be overcome.