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How early career awareness programs benefit employers and the community 

As the skilled labor gap grows, the conversation around educational gaps and skills gaps is growing as well. Despite knowing that a major cause of these gaps is lack of awareness among youth over good careers available to them, there are still far too few resources available for those who would benefit the most: low-income families without access to programs, or students where enthusiasm for education attainment is not shared in the home. Career awareness is a crucial and early step students need to develop their career interests. In order to empower students to become career ready, businesses and the community must invest in career awareness programs to provide younger students with exposure to jobs that align with their interests and aptitudes.

Opportunities for career exploration through work-based learning (WBL) programs expose students to new ideas, career paths, and experiences in the working world that offer a solution to close the skills gaps. Work-based learning is designed to open students’ eyes to the connection between school and career. These programs motivate them to learn and utilize the skills they will need for the future — skills that aren’t always taught within a traditional classroom setting.

Not only do these programs impact the lives of students involved, but when introduced to students early enough, career awareness helps fill the talent pipeline for the businesses that drive our community.

A work-based learning journey begins at career awareness

A hands-on career awareness program begins the pathway for student success.

GPS Education Partners (GPSEd) is one organization that brings together business and education partners to build student awareness through early assessments of interests, skills, and abilities. These programs increase student interest in technical careers and help them identify their aptitudes earlier to create data-driven, individually tailored career training plans.

Career awareness can take place at local schools or within community organizations. Awareness activities typically include:

  • STEM projects to increase student interest in manufacturing careers
  • Hands-on projects that connect to real-world applications
  • Industry tours tied to the student experience
  • Interest inventory
  • Public speaking by industry and community leaders
  • Self-awareness and personal reflection activities to align understanding and interest to long-term academic career planning
  • Mini career camps

Many career awareness programs offer similar activities, but they fail to tie the hands-on learning to real-world applications – this is what excites and engages students.

Through a customizable program, GPSEd introduces subject matter experts to students in order to demonstrate hands-on learning and help them reach their “ah-ha” moment of understanding. Results of each program are then measured against a set of work-based learning standards and benchmarks created to ensure the program serves its purpose for each student.

The benefit of early exposure to technical careers

In collaboration with the Boys and Girls Club of Greater Milwaukee and the Obama School of CTE, the first GPSEd STEM Career Awareness program was launched to provide ninth-grade students with awareness around technical careers along with the skills and aptitudes needed for success by designing a series of STEM-related projects. Tours to local GPSEd business partners Komatsu, Signicast, Rexnord and Danfoss opened young students’ minds about a possible technical career.

Using project and career-based experiences to help students make better choices about their career interests, GPSEd continues to foster awareness around academic career planning. Students are also able to gain invaluable access to employers who can provide WBL experiences to develop deeper career interests.

Through these programs, students are able to discover their passions and interests and then connect them to an attainable career. Schools are able to ignite a sense of purpose in students through real-world interactions and employers are able to demonstrate the impact their work has on the community while broadening their pool of skilled talent.

Preparing students for the future

The career awareness initiative is designed around community participation. It aims to build stronger partnerships among schools, employers, and community-based organizations. In addition to expanding young students’ minds about a future in a technical career, career awareness programs give a realistic understanding of the working world — one students can envision themselves in.

GPSEd supports the community by keeping Wisconsin talent in Wisconsin manufacturers. If you’d like to support our mission, consider donating to our Close The Gap campaign. Visit for more information on how you can give back to the Wisconsin workforce.

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Laura Derpinghaus - GPS Education Partners
Laura Derpinghaus is an enthusiastic marketing strategist with 25 years of proven experience working with manufacturers on both B2B and B2C marketing strategies. In her new role as Director of Marketing and Communications for GPS Education Partners, she is putting her communication skills to work by engaging manufacturers into new conversations about how work-based learning can do more than fill their talent pipeline.

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