Brunswick High School student Pearl Stuart participated in a music industry career pathway opportunity this fall. Her work included marketing for locally born singer Lady Lamb’s concert this week. Contributed

SOUTH PORTLAND — Elizabeth Ralph, a senior at Yarmouth High School, has an unusual passion — one for public policy. Ralph said the career exploration opportunities available at Yarmouth High confirmed her desire to study political science and one day have an impact on public policy, particularly as it relates to juvenile justice, voting rights and the environment.

She called the career exploration program “an incredible opportunity to branch out and learn about different jobs.”

That’s why career pathway coordinators in school districts from Brunswick to Cape Elizabeth and from Westbrook to Windham created the new Community Coordinators Collective, or C3.

The goal of C3 is to help school districts expand their outreach and effectiveness when it comes to providing career development opportunities, while also responding to businesses across the state who are clamoring for more workforce development and more workers as they face a continued labor crunch.

Yarmouth High School students, Elizabeth Ralph, left, and Jane Fulton at the State House last spring during a job shadow with the Maine People’s Alliance. Contributed

Rick Wilson, the community outreach and extended learning coordinator for the Brunswick School Department, is a founding member of C3 and said this week the group hopes to make better connections with each other, as well as with students and businesses.

“Businesses really need these type of connections, especially in getting students to understand what’s out there for work,” Wilson said. He said there are “huge misrepresentations” regarding professional career options in Maine.

“We all want to keep our talent right here,” Wilson said, which is why “a lot of school districts are now putting up ‘open for business signs.'” He said many more school districts across the state are hiring career pathway coordinators in order to make the connections between schools and business easier. “We’re really spearheading those connections. We’re greasing the tracks,” Wilson said.

This fall semester, for instance, he said about 25 Brunswick High students are involved in a number of different job shadowing and internship opportunities from area businesses like Mid Coast Hospital to Wild Oats Bakery to the Maine State Music Theatre.

Jane Eberle, the long-time director of community partnerships for the South Portland School Department, is another founding member of C3.

Eberle said C3 was created to “widen the net.”

Not only to help career pathway coordinators work better together and share resources, but also to make businesses and students and their families more aware of the career exploration options that are available.

“At the top of our list of goals is expanding workforce development and career readiness and career pathway pipelines,” Eberle said.

She said C3 meets monthly in South Portland and agreed with Wilson that “making connections is hugely important,” particularly when it comes to encouraging students to explore the variety of careers open to them and giving businesses the chance to recruit and mentor young people.

Eberle said that while there is tremendous value to both students and businesses when they make a positive connection, “there’s still value in these programs even if a student decides against their initial career choice. Sometimes finding out what you don’t want is as valuable as being confirmed in your interest.”

Eberle also said a group like C3 can be “very helpful” to businesses as they make the commitment to host a student. “We always work carefully with the hosts on guidelines and objectives and most often they become a permanent partner.”

In South Portland, she said the school district actually starts career exploration as early as second grade. Each year the city’s second-grade students take a walk to the businesses around their schools to get exposure to the type of work people are doing locally.

“All of us in C3 want every student to find a pathway that works for them and that they’re equipped to follow,” Eberle said. “The earlier we expose students to pathways and opportunities the more likely we are to (encourage) their aspirations.”

Wilson said that C3 is approaching 25 members and the group also plans to make a special presentation at the Educate Maine Symposium on Dec. 6. Many members of the group are also working on a joint career fair that will take place in spring 2020 at South Portland High.

C3 members also include Portland, Scarborough, Cape Elizabeth, Gorham, Westbrook, Windham, Naples, Cumberland and Freeport, among others.

Justine Carlisle, the director of the Yarmouth school district’s Partners in Education program, said that by providing students with a chance “to learn first-hand about career opportunities and experience the workplace environment, it can help them better identify their areas of interest … (while also) practicing many important skills … such as resume building, interviewing, and networking.”

For the businesses, she said “given the competitive job market, they understand the value in opening their doors and spending the extra time necessary for job shadows and internships.  We are fortunate to live in a community that supports and invests in its next generation.”

Carlisle said it made sense for Yarmouth to join C3 because “I always leave our meetings with new ideas about how we might be more effective.”

Andrea Levinsky, the extended learning opportunities coordinator at Portland High School said she has about 30 students participating in internships this fall semester, which is about the same as participated all of last school year.

“It’s really exciting to see so many more students engaged,” she said. Students at Portland High, Levinsky said, are working with a large variety of businesses from the Maine Medical Center Research Institute to the New England Historical Society.

She said joining C3 “was an easy decision because it’s an incredible opportunity” to connect with colleagues and get access to resources. Levinsky said Portland High has one of the biggest and longest-running internship programs in the state and said the internships offered often lead to jobs and networking.

For the businesses, she said it’s critical to expose students to their field of work particularly with the ongoing labor shortage.

“Making these connections is of mutual benefit,” Levinsky said.

In Windham, Lanet Hane, the director of community connections for the Windham, Raymond schools, said belonging to C3 provides her with greater access to resources. “Because of the group, I can reach out and ask for assistance locating contacts, interacting with specific corporations, finding out about student-focused events, and much more,” she said.

Even though her position is relatively new, Hane said that in the past year she’s connected an increasing number of students to job shadows, business visits and career fairs, and helped them interact with a wide variety of local professionals from video game developers to graphic artists to lawyers, public safety officers and more.

The value of C3, Hane said, is that it’s “really a community-wide effort to help our students exit K-12 education with all the necessary life skills to take their next steps with confidence, and hopefully to take those steps right here in Maine.”

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