Many companies scour college campuses in search of talent. Some Twin Cities companies, however, are courting students long before they graduate from college.
Bloomington’s Career and College Academy provides education and training in a variety of in-demand fields. High school students who elect to take classes through the academy can also earn credit toward degrees from area colleges and technical schools. The academy opened in fall 2015 with courses in building and construction, criminal justice and law enforcement, health sciences and information technology. This year, the academy has added courses for students interested in a career in automotive repair, cosmetology and manufacturing.
Representatives of the academy, the business community and U.S. Sen. Al Franken’s staff gathered last week to discuss how the academy has evolved, how it benefits both students and their future employers and what can be done at the federal level to increase opportunities for students who choose career training programs rather than colleges as the foundation of their careers.
David Bine teaches information technology classes at the academy, as well as at Hennepin Technical College in Brooklyn Park. He said the coursework he teaches high school students at the academy is no different than the coursework he teaches to college students. “These are college courses for college credit.”
Students attending the academy, however, are not paying tuition for those credits, so they’re getting a head start on a post-secondary degree while completing their high school education. Most students enrolled in courses at the academy seem to be career focused, according to Bine.
Bus transportation is provided for students at Bloomington’s Jefferson and Kennedy high schools, providing easy access to the academy’s classrooms inside the former Lincoln High School building. Students take their academy classes in a block, either in the morning or afternoon, with the balance of their day spent at their regular high school.
Kaitlyn Faust, a senior at Jefferson, was uncertain as to what she wanted to do upon graduating from high school this spring when she learned about the new cosmetology program at the academy. She enjoys hairstyling and decided to enroll in the academy’s cosmetology program, where she now spends two hours each morning learning and practicing a variety of cosmetology skills.
Students in the cosmetology program practice skills in hair styling and nail art, but also learn about many other facets of the industry, such as state laws and regulations, infection control, safety and sanitation, electricity, communication, anatomy and physiology. Students in the program earn up to 90 hours of credit toward a state license during a trimester at the academy.
Alaissha Mendoza Rodriguez, a senior at Kennedy, is taking nursing assistant and home health aide classes at the academy. She is seeking a career in the medical field and touted the opportunity to hear from working professionals in the industry as a benefit of the program.
Potential employers of academy students are finding that the academy is beneficial, too. Aspen Equipment, a Bloomington manufacturer of specialty trucks and equipment, is in need of skilled laborers who can help assemble – and sometimes fabricate – the parts for service vehicles such as snowplows used by the city, county or state and boom trucks used by utility companies.
When Aspen Equipment learned about the academy, it sought to create a program in the academy that provides a career pathway in manufacturing. Representatives of the company will speak with students about the skills required to custom build a utility truck, and the company hosts tours of its Bloomington facility periodically to show students how its products are built, and the equipment the company uses to do it.
The goal is to expose high school students to the opportunities in manufacturing, at Aspen or elsewhere, according to Sharon Hengel, a human resources manager at Aspen.
Walser Automotive Group of Edina reached out to the academy to help develop a career pathway in automotive repair, as the company is finding that hiring trained technicians to replace those who are retiring has become more difficult. In addition to exposing students to the industry through education and tours, the company offers paid training to its employees to help advance their careers. Through its partnership with the academy and outreach to other area schools with career training programs, Walser has hired three students as part-time employees, according to Nancy Warner, director of the Walser Foundation.
Hands-on training is an important part of the curriculum at the academy. For information technology classes, that training can be provided in the academy’s classrooms. Training for classes in programs such as automotive repair is hard to emulate in a Bloomington classroom. Those students spend a portion of their time at Hennepin Technical College’s Eden Prairie campus.
For the cosmetology program, instructor Georgina Davis pitched the idea two years ago, when the academy was launching. The cosmetology industry is also struggling to find enough employees to fill the many jobs it has available, and it took a year to develop the program.
In addition to designing the curriculum, equipment was gathered in order to provide hands-on training in the classrooms. Equipment donations helped fill a classroom with chairs and sinks for washing and styling hair, and the classroom had to be retrofitted with plumbing in order to put the sinks to use, Davis explained.
The hope was that the cosmetology program would attract 20 students in its first year. Davis was surprised when the fall trimester enrollment was complete. “You have 95 signed up for fall,” she was told.
Cosmetology licensing is based upon hours of training, and students at the academy can earn up to 270 hours in a year. By attending the academy for three years, students can earn approximately half of the hours required for a cosmetology license without the cost of tuition, according to Davis.
There are two students taking the academy’s nail technician course, and one of the students will need less than a month of additional training upon her high school graduation in order to obtain a state license and begin her career, Davis explained.
Charles Sutton, a field representative from Sen. Franken’s office, discussed the perception that there’s a career ceiling that students reach if they do not go to college. Career pathways introduced through programs such as the academy are career floors, often offering many opportunities for employees to grow their career, he explained.
Information about Career and College Academy is available online at tr.im/academy.