A Publication of WTVP

Connecting employers with students expands the talent pipeline while providing invaluable educational opportunities.

What makes the New York Yankees, Cleveland Cavaliers and Denver Broncos the most competitive teams in their respective leagues? Billion-dollar advertising budgets, stadiums and merchandising deals notwithstanding, one thing drives a team’s success: their ability to identify, recruit and train athletes to be superior team players.

Peoria Pathways to Prosperity (PP2P) seeks to accomplish a similar goal for workforce development in Greater Peoria. PP2P enables employers to connect with Peoria Public Schools’ high school students, thereby expanding their talent pipelines while providing invaluable educational and economic opportunities.

Peoria Pathways to Prosperity (PP2P) was created to connect Peoria Public Schools students with career opportunities in the fields most in demand in Greater Peoria—specifically healthcare, manufacturing, engineering, building trades and STEM fields. Brent Baker was hired to coordinate the PP2P initiatives through a grant from the American Federation of Teachers. These initiatives now include the Mayor’s Summer Youth Corps, the Career Cruising GP database connecting students and local businesses, and a collaboration between Peoria Public Schools and Illinois Central College (ICC) to develop curriculum pathways tailored to the needs of the Peoria market.

Another major focus just getting started is the Peoria Mayor’s Internship Challenge. Led by Mayor Jim Ardis, the initiative aims to create at least 50 internships for high school juniors and seniors over the 2016-2017 school year. We have charged Baker with the task of working with Peoria businesses to design internships specifically for high school students and to recruit and place students in those internships. We hope this will get us well on the way to 1,000 internship and job-shadow experiences locally—a goal set by business leaders when the PP2P effort began two years ago.

Collaborations with Business
As an example of the collaborations we are seeking, 20 high school students joined the PP2P Mayor’s Summer Youth Corps this summer. The eight-week program—a collaboration between the City of Peoria and Peoria Public Schools—gives students work experience through the city’s Public Works department, performing beautification, clean-up projects and infrastructure improvements. But work experience is just part of the program, which helps students explore professional fields and exposes them to the day-to-day operations of both Public Works and business.

In the initial weeks of the Summer Youth Corps program, students gathered at the Lincoln K-8 Compass Learning Lab to explore career interests. Through Career Cruising GP, students created a profile and were matched with professional fields including the arts, communication, technology, health sciences and building trades. Using their profiles as a roadmap, students then spent part of their Youth Corps time touring a range of businesses, including the Jump Trading Simulation and Education Center, Excel Foundry, union training facilities, Farnsworth Group, and a number of marketing and advertising agencies. Students also toured both ICC campuses, meeting with Student Services and Financial Aid staff members.

Career Cruising GP, a local database built by PP2P for the exclusive use of Peoria Public Schools students, gives information on companies and offers the services of virtual career coaches and career-development opportunities, including internships and job shadowing. In recent months, Baker has worked with local business leaders to add 35 companies and 42 career coaches to Career Cruising GP, resulting in 164 career-development opportunities. Many more are needed. Career Cruising GP is available to all Peoria Public Schools students and their parents through a home computer, their school’s Compass Learning Lab or public library computers.

In its first year, PP2P created seven new, dual-credit healthcare and manufacturing courses at Manual Academy and Woodruff Career and Technical Center (WCTC), giving students the chance to earn college credit through ICC. For the 2016-2017 school year, in conjunction with the Peoria Fire Department, WCTC will offer courses in Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) and fire science courses.

Creating a Farm System
The Mayor’s Internship Challenge represents a shift in thinking from the traditional internship model aimed at recruiting college students, as well as the “What does an intern offer our company?” mentality. Instead, PP2P rephrases the question: “What are we, as corporate and nonprofit leaders, offering our local high school students?” Across the nation, corporations and nonprofits are rethinking internship models, creating “micro-internships” or short-term career exploration opportunities for high school students. This model presents clear advantages to businesses:

Is your company connecting with high school students? Are you missing a crucial opportunity to address your talent gaps? By investing resources from attracting talent to growing talent, your company can become a leader in workforce development. iBi

Dr. Sharon Desmoulin-Kherat is Superintendent of Peoria Public Schools. To learn how you can connect with Peoria Public Schools students in a meaningful way, contact Brent Baker, PP2P Coordinator, at [email protected].