Think back to when you were an 8th grade student, did you know what you wanted to be when you grew up? Or better yet, did you really know what types of jobs where available in your hometown? Times have certainly changed and kids are thinking about these questions younger and younger. But more importantly, so are businesses and school districts throughout Wisconsin.
On May 20 the Merrill Area Chamber of Commerce teamed up with Prairie River Middle School and shuttled 200 eighth grade students all over Merrill to visit and tour local businesses for the chamber’s 20/20 Vision Program thanks in part to our sponsors Lincoln Wood Products and Church Mutual Insurance.
The 20/20 Vision Program is part of the chamber’s Workforce Development Program and was designed to be their contribution to the state chamber’s Future Wisconsin Project. The Future Wisconsin Project is taking a look at and asking for programming with chambers and businesses all over Wisconsin that looks 20 years into the future. Wisconsin, like Merrill, has a high aging population percentage and the project is trying to come up with ways to attract, recruit and keep our younger population in Wisconsin to work and raise their families.
In Merrill, students take part in several great programs such as The Heavy Metal Bus Tour in the fall and NorthCentral Technical College’s Career Day in the spring, but neither of these programs is Merrill specific. So the chamber designed a program that could get PRMS 8th graders into Merrill businesses to hear and see all the different types of jobs available to them following graduation and/or higher education training in hopes that the students will one day return to Merrill to raise their families.
“The more education and exposure that the students have at a younger age the more likely they will become familiar with all of the great job opportunities that are available in their own backyards,” said Debbe Kinsey, Merrill Chamber of Commerce CEO. “The kids were traveling all over the area to see what other manufacturing jobs were available in other communities, but not in Merrill. We have great manufacturers and so many more other job opportunities right here, so we wanted to showcase Merrill only to our own students.”
As part of the school curriculum, the kids are broken down into 16 broad Career Clusters based on their interests and aptitudes. Under the 20/20 Program the kids were able to be divided into 15 of those career clusters. Those clusters included Agricultural, Food, Natural Resources; Architecture & Construction; Arts, AV Tech & Communications; Business Management & Administration; Education; Finance; Government & Public Administration; Health; Hospitality & Tourism; Human Services; Information Technology; Law, Public Safety & Corrections; Manufacturing; Marketing; and Transportation & Distribution.
Merrill businesses were eager to participate and talk to the students about the different career options in the broad career clusters and give talks and/or tours of their facilities. The businesses that opened their doors to the students included: the Hans Breitenmoser Farm, the Merrill Waste Water Treatment Facility, Reindl Printing, WJMT Radio, Church Mutual Insurance, T.B. Scott Library, The City of Merrill, Merrill Fire Department, Merrill Police Department, Ministry Good Samaritan Health Care Center, AmericInn, Merrill Area Chamber of Commerce, Lincoln County Health Department, Lincoln County Social Services, Lincoln Wood Products, and the Merrill Airport. These tours and talks helped to broaden the students’ knowledge about the types of jobs available in Merrill and it surprised many of them.
Following the tours, the students had the opportunity to take part in a survey regarding their field trip asking the students to rate how much they knew about the business before the trip and how much they knew after the trip. The resounding response was that they now knew more about the business and the types of jobs available in those broad fields following the trip. The survey also asked the students what businesses they would be interested in learning more about and they listed quite a few. Some of this information will be used for planning next year’s tours. The teachers will be helping the students next year to define their career choices more specifically so that the student-businesses matches will be even more interesting to the participants.
The second phase of the program is still in the modeling phase, but is a mentoring project that will match interested 9th grade students with business mentors who will follow them through high school to see if the student’s career fields change or become more defined and what their post-graduation plans will be in 2020.
“Overall we are very pleased with the 20/20 Vision Programs inaugural launch,” concluded Kinsey. “Working with Gerald Beyer and his team of teachers and counselors was a great experience and they were as excited about getting the students out into our community as I was. Sometimes it is difficult to see all the options and programs that are right here in our own backyards because we are too close. I hope that the 20/20 Vision Program will be able to highlight and enlighten both the kids and adults to all the great opportunities that exist right here in Merrill.”