Day of shadowing helps students make choices for future

Posted: Monday, February 09, 2004

After this week, the shadows will know -- about careers in the Kenai area.

Wednesday is Job Shadow Day in Kenai, a unique partnership between Kenai Central High School and the city's business community that seeks to match up high school juniors with professionals representing various careers around town.

At last Wednesday's Kenai Chamber of Commerce meeting, Job Shadow supporters spoke up about the importance of the program and what it means to the future of Kenai's business community.

"The message we are conveying is there is opportunity in Alaska for our Alaskan youth," said Colleen Ward, the chamber's education committee chair.

Ward said that in the next decade, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce estimates the country's labor force is expected to fall short of the 58 million skilled employees needed in the labor force.

That, coupled with the fact that nearly 40 million American workers are expected to retire in the next 15 years, means there is a tremendous need to develop tomorrow's labor force today.

"The question we must ask is, 'Where will employers find these workers?'" Ward said.

The Job Shadow program is Kenai's way of addressing the labor gap. The program works by matching Kenai juniors with workers in careers the students are interested in.

The students will spend the first half of the day Wednesday observing their intended career -- everything from doctors to oil field workers. The idea is to give kids an idea of what the working world is like.

KCHS Principal Dennis Dunn said the Job Shadow program is something he believes is one of the most positive programs available for students as they begin making decisions on what path their lives will eventually take.

Dunn said having business people mentor students is the perfect way to encourage young people to return to the community when they're ready to enter the job market.

"It's a wonderful, wonderful circle," Dunn said.

KCHS senior Hope Mishler participated in the program last year.

She said that after spending the morning with dentist Todd Wortham, she is seriously considering dentistry as a career.

"Because of my job shadow, I'm really thinking about going into dentistry," Mishler said.

She said her experience with the program was extremely positive and even led to her getting a part-time job in Wortham's office.

Although examples like Mishler's are part of the goal of Job Shadow, Ward said sometimes kids find they really aren't interested in the job they shadow -- which actually can be a good thing.

"It's not all about making a perfect match," she said. "Sometimes (students) get redirected."

As long as students and business people are interacting in a positive setting, Ward said the program will continue to be a success.

The bottom line is that it's important to encourage students to become interested in careers they can do here in the community, and Ward thanked the chamber for stepping up to again support the valuable program.

"You truly are the envy of other communities that we have this support here," she said. "Keep up the good work."

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