Businesses can help keep future workforce talent pool in the region

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All companies need a robust pipeline

By Correne Martin

Employers across the region face a skills gap as they struggle to find qualified workers, while high school students—tomorrow’s workforce—have little interaction with the businesses that may best fit their career interests and capabilities. But, a new software program, Inspire, and its facilitator, Inspire Madison Region, are geared to do something about that.

Crawford County companies had the opportunity, last week, to learn more about how the Inspire initiative is designed to better connect them with local schools by enabling students to explore career options with local employers through experiential learning activities, such as mentor/student communication, job shadowing, internships, apprenticeships, plant tours, career fairs and school guest speakers.

“Companies just can’t seem to find the employees they need. Ultimately, it comes down to them wanting to have a better relationship with their local educational institutions,” said Gene Dalhoff, Inspire Madison Region manager. Dalhoff presented the program, on Feb. 8, to about a dozen business representatives at Prairie du Chien High School and another small group of at the Gays Mills Community Commerce Center.

Inspire Madison Region is a supplement to Career Cruising, the career exploration software program the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction has made available to all public school districts in the state.

Beginning in the fall of 2017, a state statute will mandate that all sixth through 12th graders must receive academic and career planning.

The Career Cruising software has resources to build a portfolio and explore different career paths, according to the DPI’s website. However, what Career Cruising lacks is a connection between students and local businesses, which can offer those learning opportunities out in the community. So that’s where Inspire Madison Region fits in.

Currently, Dalhoff said, around 45 school districts and 260 employers in the region have signed on to participate in Inspire Madison Region, which includes Columbia, Crawford, Dane, Dodgeville, Grant, Green, Iowa, Jefferson, Lafayette, Richland and Sauk counties. These businesses have pledged 295 mentors/coaches and committed more than 1,400 experiential learning activities.

“One of the goals with Inspire is to help reduce future student debt by identifying the best fit for today’s students before they’re off to college,” Dalhoff added. “We also hope to address current and future workforce needs and help keep our companies’ future talent pool in the region.”

Employer participants can enroll their companies (at for free, make a simple profile and, then, start taking advantage of engaging with students, either as career coaches or through activities like job or speaking to a class. As the students explore and research different careers, they will see the companies that have created profiles on Inspire and learn various aspects about them, such as occupations available, abilities necessary, pay scale and more. The students may have questions for the employers online, or in person if it’s agreed upon, or they may request further exposure to help them “try the career on for size.”

Dalhoff said students can request an internship, for example, and then fill out a form, which first goes to an intermediary adviser—a teacher or staff member at the school—who decides whether it’s a good fit for the student and whether or not to send the request through to the business. The adviser basically helps steer the students in the most appropriate directions, while also assuring employers won’t be inundated with requests.

Presently, the Inspire software license is free to regional school districts through a grant from the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation. Crawford County school districts in Prairie du Chien, Wauzeka-Steuben, Seneca and North Crawford are utilizing the program.

Especially while it’s available free to schools, Prairie du Chien High School Dean of Students Karen Sjoberg urged company representatives to sign up for this invaluable tool and help develop that more qualified future workforce.
“This is your chance to capture students while they’re still here and possibly bring them back after college,” she said.

At Prairie du Chien High School, students will eventually work with a career coach all four years of high school, according to Sjoberg. They will meet, a couple times a month, with their career coach, who will assist their students with getting into nearby workplaces.

Also, beginning this fall, Prairie du Chien will require freshmen to take a career class, through which a number of different career assessments will be done via Inspire. These will determine students’ interests, record skill inventories and provide them a list of multiple careers that would suit them well.

“They’re going to look into those careers and the hope is to get them exposure to all those careers so they can experience what they could be doing in the future,” noted Amy Charles, business and industry services manager at Southwest Tech, which partnered with Inspire Madison Region and Prosperity Southwest Wisconsin to offer last week’s business education sessions.

Connections will be made and they will continue through college because Inspire will be available to students up to five years after high school, Dalhoff pointed out.

For-profit and non-profit companies—of all sizes in Crawford County and its adjoining counties (even in Iowa)—are encouraged to create a profile at Inspire Madison Region as soon as possible.

“The easiest way to get started is to take 20 minutes, make a profile and sign up to be a career coach. You interact online by first name only. Then you can decide what kind of commitment you want to make, whether it’s offering job shadows, internships or other activities,” Dalhoff commented. “Make sure these students’ first chance to connect with a business is with you.”

Each employer in the database can share whatever they wish—videos, bullet points, short or detailed verbiage—to inform viewers about their business. They may also pick and choose which experiential learning activities they wish to provide for students.

“Whatever you say you’re going to do, you need to be able to deliver on that,” Charles advised. “Students from Crawford County, maybe even Madison, might see the opportunities here and not realize they’re available unless you get them on Inspire.”

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