Roughly 45 local educators and representatives from 30 businesses spent Monday afternoon in a speed dating-style event at Missoula College. Unlike traditional speed-dating, however, the event was aimed at steering high school kids toward high-paying jobs in the construction industry, healthcare, law enforcement, agriculture and other careers that are desperately short on workers.
Called “Workforce Connections,” the event is a collaboration among Missoula County Public Schools, Missoula College and the Missoula Area Chamber of Commerce. The goal is to arm educators with knowledge about ways their students can transition into careers with opportunities for advancement and without taking on huge amounts of college debt.
Jasmine Rusnell, the human resources representative for Diversified Plastics in Missoula, told a table full of teachers that her company pays over $15 an hour to start and they have an on-the-job training program. Workers mix chemicals or operate computer numerical control (CNC) machines, for example.
“We are also offering job shadowing right now,” she explained. “We have a student from Big Sky High School coming tomorrow. We’re also working on an apprenticeship program.”
Austin Hobza, the human resources manager for Paradise Dental Technologies, said all workers at his company work 32-hour workweeks but get paid for 40 hours, and everyone gets a full benefits package.
"Most of our workforce is on the production side of things, but our headquarters are here, so we also have customer service, sales and marketing and that kind of stuff," Hobza said.
The company offers on-the-job training and pays over $12 an hour to start for people with no college education, but the average wage is between $14 and $15.
People who have artistic tendencies or are mechanically inclined do well, he noted.
"If someone's got the right personality and they want to learn, we'll train them," he said.
Rob Watson, Missoula County Public Schools' superintendent, sat at all the different tables and met with industry representatives.
"I’m learning lots of great things,” he said. “I would say probably the biggest thing is learning what employers are expecting from students and sort of some of the skills students are missing as they enter the workforce."
Many employers gave the same advice, he noted.
"I heard a lot about writing resumes, interviewing skills and soft skills like showing up on time and being able to work with people," Watson continued. "... As an educator I think it's important for us to hear that. It helps guide our work."
Watson said he heard from many employers that kids don't understand that they can get paid while they train and finish the training without any debt.
Kasey Dirnberger, the career and technical education coordinator for the school district, said the goal is to "have kids out in the workforce."
Students can earn college credit at Missoula College, where Dirnberger said the first six credits are tuition-free. That applies to any community college in Montana, she noted. The district wants to give students as many options as possible, whether it involves college or entering the workforce right after high school.
"It gives them a leg up on the workforce, and they don't have to go into debt," she said. "And they get a little taste of what college curriculum looks like, and they see it's not so hard."
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