CareerX program paves the way to a bright future for Eagle County youth

Eagle County Schools created the CareerX program in 2016 based on a simple idea: Provide high school students with opportunities to explore careers. That simple idea has inspired many community organizations to jump into the water with us to give our valley's youth a vision for their futures like no traditional high school class ever could. While the program helps students develop post-high school plans, it also serves to broaden perspectives about the variety of careers available in the 21st century.

One job shadow day at a large corporation such as Vail Resorts gives kids exposure to careers in marketing, mountain operations, finance, accounting, human resources, hospitality, property management, retail and resource management. Students benefit from visiting job sites and experiencing the climate, culture and everyday operations of different careers. A shadow day serves to build dreams and bust myths about careers they may want to pursue.

Job shadows, internships and employment are all part of the career exploration mix. CareerX coordinates practical, hands-on learning experiences for students at many of our valley's leading employers. Robust career exploration helps students define career paths and academic goals for the future. Through meaningful internships and jobs appropriate for high school students, we can produce a highly skilled workforce that meets the needs of local businesses that struggle to find qualified employees.

Job shadows consist of a half-day or full day on site that includes informational interviews with business professionals, a site tour and a summative reflection. Job shadows are typically one-time visits intended to provide a broad understanding of an industry sector.

Internships focus on providing in-depth exposure related to a specific job sector, mentorship from business partners and job skill development. Internships are a 60-hour per semester commitment and students receive 0.5 elective high school credit upon completion.

Partnerships with leading community organizations are an integral part of the CareerX strategy. In fall 2018, apprenticeships will be made available to qualified students. Apprenticeships are three-year commitments moving from 15 hours per week in the first year to 25 hours per week in the second year and culminating with 35 to 40 hours per week in the final year.

The district has partnered with Vail Valley Partnership, YouthPower365 and CareerWise Colorado, a nonprofit designed to help school districts grow apprenticeships based on a Swiss model. The Vail Valley Partnership serves to bridge the gap between local businesses and Eagle County Schools, and YouthPower365 provides students with the soft skills required to be successful on the job.

For students who pursue three-year apprenticeships, Eagle County Schools provides the opportunity to earn college credit from Colorado Mountain College. Our longstanding partnership with CMC has enabled high school students to earn thousands of credits every year through the dual-enrollment program. Apprenticeships can be aligned to CMC degree and certification programs to earn students the credentials to advance their careers at little to no cost. Reducing college costs and providing early experience in their chosen careers will help our students be productive members of our community and build a workforce that sustains the economy of our valley.

The CareerX program has grown exponentially in its first 18 months. During the first year, 59 students completed internships and 150 students participated in various job shadows. During the fall semester of 2017-18, CareerX has placed 59 interns and 160 students have participated in job shadows. Impressive numbers, for sure, but only just the beginning. Insuring that our youth realize their dreams and have access to the bright and successful futures they desire is a long-term and shared community responsibility, now and for years to come.

Philip Qualman is the assistant superintendent for student services for Eagle County Schools. Email him at philip.qualman@eagleschools.net.