Job shadow program helps Whatcom youth imagine future careers

The Whatcom Business Alliance’s Youth Engagement Initiative is working to make real its vision of a dynamic local economy in which communities, schools, businesses and policy-makers operate together in support of our youth, the emerging workforce.

How exactly would the community support youth in this model? Through the promotion of academic and career pathways, workplace experiences, and opportunities for livable-wage jobs right here in Whatcom County.

After all, a clear path to career jobs for youth is a key component of a robust local economy and workforce.

It’s to this end that the Youth Engagement Initiative has built a relationship with the Junior Achievement Job Shadow program. Through this program, high school students explore college-alternative, quick-start careers and can see them first-hand by visiting professional workplaces.

Recently, high schoolers in Whatcom County had the opportunity to visit two local employers that offer on-the-job training for entry-level workers and advancement into career positions within their organizations: Birch Equipment and Alcoa Intalco Works.

On a visit to Birch Equipment, Owner/CEO Sarah Rothenbuhler started students with a Q&A about company operations, customers, hiring practices, culture and about how youth – whether coming straight from high school, looking for changes in their initial jobs, working during college breaks or coming straight from college – can get started and then advance through a variety of multifaceted careers at the company. Students then toured the Bellingham facility and learned from Birch crews about the lean management processes, technology systems, software programming and strategic marketing it takes to purchase, rent, mobilize and maintain Birch’s regional equipment fleet.

“The visit to Birch was valuable, well organized, and a wonderful first foray into worksite visits for our students as they explore potential career opportunities,” said Jami Aeschliman, a teacher at Options High School. “Sarah took time personally to instruct our students, and a diverse group of her employees took turns educating us on their specific positions within the company. Each one patiently answered questions and provided relevant work-readiness information in a fun and engaging way.”

At Alcoa Intalco Works, Laura McKinney, who works as Alcoa’s human resources, government affairs and public relations manager, helped guide youth through an explanation of career pathways at Alcoa.

McKinney, who serves on the WBA board of directors, describes the job shadow program as one of introducing the emerging workforce and local businesses to each other.

“We want to take our high school students inside businesses in Whatcom County to show them what some of the job opportunities may look like,” McKinney said in a video introducing the program. “We also want to help our students better understand the connection between successful business and a vibrant economy. We want to introduce students to business leaders and mentors who can help them achieve the future that they want.”

The overall aim of the Junior Achievement Job Shadow program is to help the next generation of workers identify potential immersive learning career paths and to prepare for success in those fields. The program teaches students to understand the importance of researching the requirements needed to earn a position and to develop important job-seeking skills, including the ability to network, craft resumes and conduct interviews.

At Birch Equipment in Bellingham and Alcoa in Ferndale, students learned what skills they need to be successful — not only at those companies in particular, but in the trades in general.

“I am very appreciative for the WBA partnership that allows Junior Achievement to bring students participating in the JA’s Job Shadow program to learn about the local industry that keeps our community thriving,” said Carmen Marttila, regional director for Junior Achievement of Northern Washington. “I am also grateful to Birch Equipment and Alcoa Intalco Works for opening their doors to JA students from Options, Ferndale and Lynden high schools to meet with their leadership and staff, as well as allowing them the experience of touring their facilities to learn what it takes to be a qualified candidate for employment and build a career in these industries.  We are excited about bringing JA’s Job Shadow program to more high schools in Whatcom County to continue to expose students to local industry and empower them to achieve and succeed in making their dreams a reality.”

In addition to its work with the Junior Achievement Job Shadow program and other efforts, the Youth Engagement Initiative operates the website as part of its drive to introduce Whatcom County youth — the workforce of the future — to jobs at companies throughout the county. The website includes employer bios and available jobs for emergent workers of all ages, including students. The idea is that a robust career pipeline for Whatcom high school students and other job seekers will help ensure the success of Whatcom County businesses and families.