Founded in 1906 after 53 separate Clubs across the country joined together into one affiliation, the Boys & Girls Clubs of America was established with one important mission: to enable all young people, especially those most in need, to reach their full potential as productive, caring, responsible citizens.
As stewards of this mission, the Boys & Girls Clubs of Sarasota County in Florida has been providing daily programs and services to thousands of youth between the ages of six and eighteen for over four decades. Now they have a new high-tech resource to enhance that mission: VirtualJobShadow.com. This interactive career exploration platform has been adopted to provide immediate access to career readiness tools for Sarasota youth served at the Boys & Girls Club.
“We had a need to give them a good balance – not only what was available for college – but what was there for vocational careers as well,” says Roscelyn Guenther, Director of Program Services. “We knew that statistically, not all of our young people who come through here will go to college. So, we started putting ideas together to address that.”
The Tom & Debbie Shapiro Career Resource Center, opened in 2016, provides a variety of workforce development initiatives for youth and young adults. Their goals are to empower participants to continue their education, earn higher wages in well-paying careers, and go on to lead productive lives as employed citizens.
Helping Youth Find Purpose
The Boys & Girls Clubs of Sarasota County’s Board of Directors agreed that among its needs was vocational training within the community. An onsite storage space was revamped and retooled into what is now a state-of-the-art facility. Today, the Shapiro Career Resource Center’s staff partners with community employers to identify high-demand job opportunities, while also providing instruction and hands-on learning for teens in electrical construction, plumbing, culinary arts and hospitality, and computer coding.
Among the slate of services offered at the Shapiro Career Resource Center is an entrepreneurial program, which is offered three times a year and helps students develop critical thinking, leadership and financial literacy skills so they can start their own businesses.
Additionally, the engaging VirtualJobShadow.com resources have been a key component of the training and services offered.
VirtualJobShadow.com Enhances the Mission
“Almost as soon as the Shapiro Career Resource Center doors opened, VirtualJobShadow.com was implemented,” says Guenther. “It came into play because the Boys & Girls Club Director at the time was familiar with the program and knew what it could provide to middle and high school students.”
“Once it was in place, driven by our leadership, we found it was an amazing tool to enhance what we had already laid out as the foundation for our programs. Our young people could gauge where their interests lay and come away with an actual game plan on how to pursue those interests.” In addition, she says, VirtualJobShadow.com proved a valuable way for donors and the community at large to understand what the Boys & Girls Club was accomplishing.
To date, the administration is impressed with the VirtualJobShadow.com platform, says Guenther, and particularly likes the short, high-quality job shadowing videos and their appeal to teens, the focus on in-demand careers, and how the interest assessment results tie directly to career choice.
Student Reactions to VirtualJobShadow.com
Geoff Gilot, Teen Specialist at the Boys & Girls Clubs of Sarasota County, says that typical career assessments in schools are not that user-friendly or engaging. He says his kids enjoy using the interactive assessments on VirtualJobShadow.com.
“Many of them don’t know what they want to do at this stage in life, but after the assessments, the exercise gives them a clearer understanding and a path they can follow,” said Gilot. Currently about 40 percent of the teens who participate in this program have accessed VirtualJobShadow.com, with that number expected to rise. More important, on a local level, the assessments help these teens zero in on jobs that allow them to stay in the Sarasota region.
Transferable Soft Skills for the Local Job Market
“What we can measure at this point in using VirtualJobShadow.com,” says Roscelyn Guenther, “is that we are educating and allowing teens in this community to see the options that are on their level, providing them with skills that can help them no matter what career field they decide to go into in the future.”
Guenther points out there is a large opportunity in vocational areas because the need is so great. “At least that’s what we hear from local businesses,” she says. “They are finding their workforce is aging out and positions need to be filled. A young professional can earn an average of $45,000 a year at some of these jobs.”
At the Boys & Girls Club, it’s more typical for both parents to average that amount together, she adds. “The opportunities for our youth are actually pretty phenomenal when you put it in context. The jobs are here. It’s just a matter of matching them to skilled workers.”
Just as important, say both Guenther and Gilot, the youth who attend the Boys & Girls Club are gaining a new set of soft skills from using VirtualJobShadow.com that are transferrable, along with the other services provided by the organization.
“For example,” says Gilot, “some of these kids are trying to get jobs and have never been in an interview setting; never written a resume. Now they know how to run through mock interviews, know what questions to ask, what to wear, what not to wear, and what to bring to the table.”
VirtualJobShadow.com and Program Success
“VirtualJobShadow.com has definitely been an asset to our program,” says Guenther, “and to our teens. I would encourage other non-profit organizations to add it to their programming, especially if it ties in with their mission statement.”
“We had one youth at our Boys & Girls Club,” says Gilot, “who was really into technology and IT. After he took the VirtualJobShadow.com assessment, he found out that computer programming really was his best fit. Now he’s fired up about working in IT and is pursuing it as his chosen career field.”
VirtualJobShadow.com provides career exploration resources for K-12, post-secondary institutions, and workforce development programs nationwide. To learn more, please visit VirtualJobShadow.com.