Elijah Becker, a freshman at East Grand Rapids High School, already has a plan for his future: working in video editing or visual effects design. Spending part of a day job-shadowing at ManoByte, a Grand Rapids marketing agency, gave him valuable firsthand knowledge in his chosen field.
“It shows us what the environment is like and how we can apply our skills to that field,” Elijah said. “It definitely gives us a feel for how we can use our skills.”
Elijah was one of nearly 600 Kent County students who spent Groundhog Day visiting several area work sites. Groundhog Shadow Day, a job-shadowing program offered by Kent ISD’s Career Readiness department, aims to help students explore future careers as well as connect area businesses to local schools.
Lindsey Tilley, Kent ISD career exploration coordinator, said the program improved by more than twice from 256 students a year ago, and in fact has grown significantly in each of its three years. She attributed the increase to positive word of mouth among students, coordination with willing businesses, and teachers who push students to broaden their professional horizons.
“Schools have been very positive because they feel like this is a good fit,” Tilley said. “Everyone’s excited about matching students’ interests to a career. That’s always a continuous challenge we battle.”
Reinforcing Classroom Lessons
Wyoming High School sent 99 students last year. This year 188 participated.
“I started out sending my career-technical education students as a way for them to understand all post-secondary options available to them,” said teacher Cheryl Small. “The students came back to school with so much excitement that I couldn’t help but bring all my classes the following year.
“Every year the students who go to the event come back to school and tell their friends what a great opportunity it was for them,” she continued. “They talk about potential careers and why their current classes are important. These events reinforce what teachers try to teach their students every day in the classroom. Students are sometimes offered internships and even jobs on the spot.”
ManoByte Director of Marketing Amy Post said job-shadowing not only benefits the students, but allows businesses to show versatility. ManoByte offers work in designing websites, on an email campaign, video production and increasing brand awareness. That allows students glimpses into what businesses will expect from those who’ve just graduated from high school, college or trade school, she said.
“It’s important for youths to understand what is within their reach,” Post said. “There are opportunities in marketing and other fields in entry level positions and in jobs after college. You just have to work hard and there will be opportunities.”
From Tutus to Tools
Elsewhere, students learned about fields as diverse as construction and ballet costume design.
You can change the shape of a tutu with a few rips and pinches and stitches. Male dancers’ jacket sleeves aren’t usually attached to their jackets so they can dance easier. And the machines putting these costumes together range from brand-new sergers to ones that look like they should be in an antique shop, but they all do different jobs.
That’s some of what four student shadowers learned when they visited Grand Rapids Ballet costume shop manager Katie Behrens. They included Lowell junior Ashton Charron, Forest Hills Eastern junior Celina Khoury and Wyoming senior Kora Hamilton.
“I like sharing my passion with other people,” Behrens said of her full-time position. “Lots of people don’t know my position exists.”
Students from Forest Hills Eastern and Lowell also visited a local building site where an Erhardt Construction crew is on the job.
The construction industry has been working on changing the perceptions and hesitation students have about it, said Marc Felt, Erhardt Construction manager. “There’s more to just being out there and pounding nails,” Felt said. “You might never set foot on a construction site.”
A shadowing day can help make students more aware of the job possibilities, he added. “Let’s hope this is the thing that breaks them out of that level of uncertainty.”
Morgan Jarema contributed to this report