For the third year, Missouri high school students will be given the opportunity to take part in a program focused on providing a positive workforce experience in careers of interest to today’s students.
February is Groundhog Job Shadow Month, co-sponsored by the University of Missouri College of Education and the Missouri Department of Secondary and Elementary Education’s Vocational Rehabilitation. This is the program’s third year in Missouri, according to Pre-Employment Transition Services (Pre-ETS) Project Director Bob Simpson.
“We were kind of key in getting it started,” Simpson said. “We piloted Groundhog Job Shadow Day in the past, but the idea is actually a national event. For us, a day is not long enough, so we use the whole month of February as Groundhog Job Shadow Month.”
Simpson said the goal of the project is to provide opportunities for Missouri students to have positive work-based experiences while still in school. He said having such positive experiences are directly connected to positive post-secondary school outcomes. Since getting its start, the project has grown and become more well-known.
“Certainly, a lot more people are aware of it,” Simpson said. “We did a better job of getting the word out ahead of time. Because of that, I think businesses have been much more responsive. They’ve heard about it and that gives us credibility. It’s one of those things that folks can really get behind and support.”
At a more local level, St. Francois County and six other surrounding counties are served by Anna Berkbuegler, a pre-employment transition services specialist at the University of Missouri.
“I serve school districts in a seven-county region,” Berkbuegler said. “I go in and work with students that are aged 16 to 21 and we work on pre-employment skills. Specifically, I provide instruction in the area of job exploration, workforce readiness, self-advocacy, workplace learning and some post-secondary counseling.”
The region Berkbuegler serves includes 18 school districts in Madison, Washington, Dent, Reynolds, Iron, St. Francois and Ste. Genevieve Counties.
She said the Groundhog Job Shadow Month program allows students to further hone in on what they might want to do after graduation.
“It’s a really wonderful program for students and I think it really helps them pinpoint their goals and guide them so they can have a successful employment life after graduation from high school,” she said.
The program connects students with employers and professionals in career fields that are of specific interest to them, making each student’s experience truly unique.
“We do interest inventories, and I may meet with the students and provide counseling,” Berkbuegler said. “So when they say, ‘I’m interested in going into a position where I might be able to work with animals,’ we start looking through different occupations that might be in that area.
“The idea is to get them out to job shadow in the area that they want to have a job in to make sure that’s really what they want to do, so the student has an opportunity to speak with someone who has the career that they want and then learn from them. They develop a relationship and actually a mentorship that can help give them advice down the road.”
Area businesses that are taking part in the program this month include Salem Wal-Mart, Purcell Tire, Le Salon Cheveu, Madison Medical Center, TG USA, Worrynought Kennels, Schnucks, Durso Hills Winery & Restaurant, Crown Ridge Tiger Sanctuary, Ste. Genevieve Country Mart, Town & Country Grocers in Ironton, Ste. Genevieve Police Dept., Ste. Genevieve Hospital, Farmington Sports & Rehab Center and Valley Springs Foxtrotters Ranch.
Since last February, Berkbuegler said she has seen about a 40 percent increase in student participation in the program, with two new school districts taking part.
“Districts and educators are starting to see the value,” she said. “But the main thing for us is the outcome for kids. It’s just very rewarding work and the students are just fantastic.”
Jacob Scott is a reporter with the Daily Journal. He can be reached at 573-518-3616 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.