Ponca Works spoke to students on various levels this week. 8th grade girls at a career luncheon, senior students at the high school, and STEM students at OSU. The focus is the same for each conversation, although the language and setting change substantially, getting each of these students closer to the workforce is always the goal.
Through these conversations over the years, a personal theory has developed. That every student should be required to work as a waitress and in manual labor before deciding their career field. Many of the students getting ready to graduate with a STEM degree couldn't even tell me what environment they'd like to work in, or their dream job with their brand new degree...because most of them had never worked in the field, they didn't know. They spoke about their favorite class, or the theories that they've learned, but didn't know how it would translate to the real world.
Students are mostly unaware of what the workforce is like. The group of seniors at the highschool couldn't answer how many hours per week is full time work. Getting that group of kids into the workforce right after highschool, in a position of interacting with customers, memory retention, and reward based pay would open their eyes to the skills needed to succeed.
Then transitioning those students to working hard, with their hands. In manual labor you will often use high level skills of problem solving or with pattern reading or coding machinery or doing maintenance to the tools of your trade. These two "trial" jobs will add some of the soft skills that you don't learn in a classroom. They could also provide the motivation for some to work hard in school to make it work in a different profession, or it could be a gateway to what their passion is.
While I don't think that Ponca Works will be able to change federal legislature to make this mandatory, we do preach job shadows, internships, apprenticeships, working through high school. Those experiences could give you a clue as to what the working world is like, what your dream job would actually look like on a day to day basis, or some clues into fields of work that you'd never heard of.
Ponca Works director Liz Leaming shares her musings on the state of workforce in Ponca City, Oklahoma.