Transcript:  “Investing In Our Future Workers” – with Amy Wood


Investing in our future workers is paramount to addressing the current workforce shortage. Amy Wood, Director of Special Projects at the Mid-Ohio Educational Service Center, joins the Workforce Pulse podcast to discuss innovations in work-based learning, virtual reality training, why it’s crucial for business and education to partner, and the READY FOR HIRE program.

CLINT: Welcome to the Workforce Pulse podcast. My name is Clint Knight. I’m the Director of Workforce Development at the Richland Area Chamber & Economic Development. We’re going to bring in a variety of guests to talk about the state of the workforce in mid-Ohio and how it relates to the state. We’re going to present opportunities, ideas, and resources to grow the workforce, talk about continuing to educate our workforce, and ways that we can work together. Made possible by the Area 10 Workforce Development Board, this is the Workforce Pulse. 

Welcome back to our Workforce Pulse for episode seven. I’m excited to have Amy Wood here on the podcast this week. Director of Special Projects at Mid-Ohio Educational Service Center. Amy has been in this educational world for quite a long time. I’ve been talking to you for a while about some projects that we have going on, and I’m very interested in discussing a lot of different things with you here today. We appreciate you joining us. 

AMY: Well, happy to be here Clint. Thanks for having me.  

CLINT: There’s a lot of things that that you work on, from school leadership, academic excellence, and school improvement. One of the things that I’m fascinated by is educational innovation design. That’s one of the things we were talking earlier that you specifically said you focus on and I want to dig into that a little bit right now and how it relates to workforce development specifically. What are we doing that’s new to help set our students up for the careers and the opportunities that are there for them here in the county. We’re seeing a lot of things going on in education right now around work-based learning. That’s a kind of a new buzzword. It’s been around for a while, but it’s really hot and something that we’re working to create more opportunities for. What are you seeing going on right now in work-based learning in public education? 

AMY: Well, thinking about the growth and evolution of work-based learning for many young people, the path from high school to a good job as an adult can be an obstacle course. Unclear training, unclear college or career options that are a fit for them. Perhaps not understanding the benchmarks outlining the training and skills they need for a particular occupation, and how to obtain those skills, as well as how to navigate career changes throughout their lives. This is really the gap that work-based learning is intended to solve. And so, when we talk about work-based learning, we’re talking about a continuum of experiences that are sustained interactions with business and industry partners in a real workplace setting or a simulated environment that fosters in depth, first-hand engagement with the tasks required in a given career field.  

We see a lot of things happening along that continuum of work-based learning. We see elementary experiences where students are learning of work that’s largely focused on career awareness, perhaps classroom speakers, instructional connections, things that are intended to stimulate student interest. By the middle grades, in that continuum, we’re focused more on learning about work, so more exploration, interest inventories, starting to plan for career advising activities that typically start in 7th grade, selecting courses for the middle grades and high school and just general shadowing or career speaker experiences. And then by high school, work-based learning focuses more on learning for and through work, so preparation, planning and experiences that happen in the workplace that are specifically tied to skill development. 

CLINT: So, one of the things that I hear in my job in workforce development when I go to business owners or business leaders, is we want to or we feel like we need to be reaching the young people much earlier. And a couple of things that I heard you say there, refer all the way back to elementary school and then even in middle school you talk about interest inventory. What are we doing currently, or what are other regions and communities doing currently, to get that experience or that information about the careers that are available to these young people into their classroom when it comes to kindergarten through the 5th grade. 

AMY: I can talk about that. Along that continuum of work-based learning, what underpins that is educator externships and that involves taking educators, both classroom teachers and administrators, out to business and industry sites in the community and providing some structured opportunities for them to learn about what the career opportunities really are for young people in their community and in the region so that as they’re designing instruction, they can tie in that relevance to the world of work.  

Ohio has the College and Career Readiness Anchor Standards as part of the required course of study for all grades, and so we would look for teachers then to use those experiences to ground classroom activities in those standards and to design inquiry-based instruction that attempts to solve a real-world problem.  

I would also say that as young as kindergarten, some ways that you can make a connection to work-based learning can be as simple as teachers spending a half a day learning about the 21 careers in aging care, for example, at a skilled-nursing facility, and then returning to the classroom to design hands-on stations or centers for kindergarten students to practice and experience anything from culinary preparation to building repair and maintenance.  

I had the opportunity to do some work like that in the previous role. So, even at kindergarten, there’s relevancy in exploring work-based learning opportunities. Teachers came away from that experience feeling excited about how they could make more direct career connections and students were just excited for the hands-on opportunities that went beyond what sometimes is the traditional dress up chest for fireman, teacher, and those kinds of things. 

CLINT: So, learning through play, and imagination and exploration, even kind of a role-playing experience, like you mentioned, it’s learning what it means to be a nurse is not always in the emergency room or not always just doing a rotation from hospital room to hospital room. But you have long-term care, you have in-home care, you have patient care in a doctor’s office, not in a hospital. There’s an opportunity at an early age to explore that type of career in the classroom through pretend and learning, imagination. 

AMY: Absolutely. And the business partnership there in that example is critical. Leading Age Ohio designed these teaching materials and posters that describe those 21 careers in aging care that reach beyond what we traditionally think about as being available just in the healthcare field, and so I think that’s a testament to the partnership and the need for business and industry to work with schools to design curriculum. For example, as young as kindergarten, that benefits teachers as career advisors in the classroom and young people in determining where their strengths and interests lie. 

CLINT: It’s very interesting to me at this age because I think back to that idea of why do I have to take this geometry class. We were talking earlier; my career path was musician. I was going to be a high school band director. That was my goal. My degree is in music. Why do I need this geometry? It doesn’t make sense. And now later in life I could think of 1000 ways that I used it and still use it, need to use it or wish I remembered it better. So, one of the things we’re talking about is how you could create those hands-on experiential projects in the classroom, to show that. You may be in a normal classroom, not a Career Tech, or you’re not in a carpentry program, but you’re in the 4th grade and you’re learning that this is how this could potentially apply, and you’re creating a foundation you know you’re not learning to be a carpenter, but you’re creating a foundation, right? 

AMY: Absolutely, and it all drives back to designing instruction that is inquiry based. So, setting up instruction for students to investigate a problem of real significance, local or global significance, solving that problem, researching that, investigating the world, considering the perspectives of others that are involved. We know that our young people will be working with folks from all across the globe, so that cultural competence piece is important too in that instructional design. And then being able to communicate solutions or communicate those ideas to an authentic audience. Those are some examples of bringing that relevance home in a way that helps students understand the connection between what they’re learning in school and life after high school. 

CLINT: So, we’re talking about the future of work and we’re talking about the future workforce. This upcoming generation, the next employees that are coming out of school over the next 10 years, are the most connected ever, right? They have the most resources to be connected worldwide, regionally, statewide, nationwide, however, you want to look at it. They have the most access to information that they’ve ever had. Whether it’s accurate information or not. Just information in general, so they communicate differently. They see things differently. They look at the world differently, and they’re going to work differently.  

We’re working to prepare them to use those tools to fit into the current work model, right? And on the other end of that work is trying to adjust to keep up with the way we’re advancing. What are some tools that we’re using to meet the future of work? Is virtual reality a real thing when it comes to work in the future and where we’re going? 

AMY: I absolutely think it is, and in fact just taking a page from business and industry’s book…Business and industry has been using virtual reality training for a while now and it hasn’t scaled yet at the school level. But I can talk about some specific ways that it’s relevant and ways that business and industry can partner with schools to create some customized training using these emerging technologies.  

So, virtual reality is game-based learning and game-based learning is motivating and retention of information is higher. And so, that’s why industry began to harness it for things like safety training, so in an example of business and industry, employees were using their nonpaid lunch hour to beat each other’s scores in safety training. That took place in 60 minutes and used to take place in eight hours in a classroom with three-inch binders full of materials. And so, if business and industry have figured out its efficiency and effectiveness and can analyze the data to track how well the materials have been mastered, then schools can do the same thing.  

And so, some advantages for virtual reality with regard to youth and work-based learning experiences is they can participate in simulations that might otherwise be unavailable to them in a real industry site.  

I’d like to give an example of a customization working with steel company, who had a high turnover position for an indoor melt shop crane. And it was a high turnover position, because of the critical thinking skills that were required to operate that crane. They were promoted from that position most often, so people who were successful there moved up the chain and that left an opening that was constantly in play. And so that was a partner that the schools were working with and the safety director and I began to ideate around, could we use virtual reality to design a customized melt shop crane simulation that high school students could use and we could track the analytics for so that that steel company could hire right out of our high school classrooms. And that’s what we did.  

And so, there’s a customized example of how schools and businesses can work together to get a young person 100 hours of training on an indoor crane operation simulation with an authentic controller built exactly like the industry controller that’s in use better than just a candidate walking off the street. I think there are lots of ways we can innovate in this space, and we’ll be limited really only by what we can come up with together with our business and industry partners, and probably what our finances will support.  

CLINT: Through virtual training it could be customized for nearly any skill that you’re looking to achieve, right? If you’re looking to bring in a high school graduate, we can build the virtual training for them to experience that before they’re actually even in the building, right? 

AMY: Yes, and even inside the VR, training and digital coaching feedback helps to replace that on-the-job environment. It’s not just an opportunity to play a game if you will, in isolation. Many VR technologies have feedback and coaching built in so that mistakes are corrected in real time.  

CLINT: That’s interesting and it’s going to where they are, right? So, one of the struggles we hear a lot is that, from manufacturers specifically, is if they’re not 18, I can’t bring them in. And that’s a reality for multiple reasons, whether it’s the company insurance or just corporate policy or whatever the reason is, this is an opportunity to get to that student where they are, if it’s a career tech school, or if it’s in a comprehensive high school or wherever their classroom is, wherever their program is, you can bring that workplace to them, through that tool. 

AMY: Through that simulation, yes. And especially when we look at young people facing barriers. So even beyond what business and industry are dealing with, we have an unprecedented number of young people who aren’t getting a driver’s license. Transportation could be a barrier for that reason, and it can also be a barrier if the schools where students attend or where they live are remotely located. If it’s very rural and somewhat isolated, I think that there are challenges that technology can help us overcome. 

CLINT: And that’s meeting a very specific need too. We’re physically located in Richland County, but we work in a region. I would say if you’re talking about a crane operator in this region alone, I’m kind of guessing here, but I would say there’s probably a need for over 100 to 125 crane operators. If you look at the amount of manufacturing, whether it’s steel or tubing, we have a lot of opportunities for that. What are we doing to generate that pipeline? 

AMY: Absolutely, even if a young person engages with VR technology that’s built for a specific business industry partner and decides that isn’t exactly the occupation they want to go into, you’ve built an affinity for your company brand with a young person who says, you know this game-based learning, if this is how this employer operates, this is a company I might want to work for. 

CLINT: That’s an excellent example of where we’re going to meet somewhat in the middle. You know, the employer coming to the classroom, whether physically or virtually, and getting those young people the experience of what work is like.  

Speaking of that partnership, I want to move on and talk about business advisory councils. So, many of our listeners have probably been on a business advisory council in the past. They might be on one now, and then, there’s probably a lot of listeners who’ve never heard of it, and they don’t know exactly what it is. Let’s define really quickly what a business advisory council is. 

AMY: Sure, so let me set some background for you by saying that all Ohio school districts and educational service centers are required to have a business advisory council to be part of one. There are 120 business advisory councils in the state of Ohio, and so these are groups of educators, business partners, economic development, lots of other stakeholders who are primarily working together for three reasons; 1) helping to coordinate experiences for young people in the career and college readiness space 2) building partnerships, and 3) developing professional skills for future careers. Those are the three, we call them the quality practices of business advisory councils. But most of those live under the umbrella of coordinating experiences. So, convening education and business leaders to engage in identifying strategies that transform the student learning experience to make it more relevant, to make it more of a directional focus on the intersection of their strengths and interests, so that they can make informed choices about their future career. 

CLINT: So, one of the things we talked about on the last episode with Deanna West-Torrance from NECIC (North End Community Improvement Collaborative), was when we’re trying to create these solutions or programs, we have to make sure that we’re not creating a solution for a problem that does not exist, because we operate in two completely different worlds. Education and business can speak two completely different languages and move at completely different speeds. And that can be a struggle and business advisory council could be an opportunity to get those leaders in the same room, talk about these things, identify what those problems really are, and how do we create those solutions to meet the needs and make sure our students are prepared to accept the careers that are available to them within our region and within our state. Would you say that’s kind of accurate? 

AMY: It is absolutely an opportunity to align business education partnerships. I think the most important thing that we can do as educators is to listen to our business and industry partners, and to really allow them to lead and advise the education community around solving these common problems.  

I think business advisory council is an opportunity to create that common language together and to strategize around relevant solutions for preparing young people for what they want to do next? Businesses have an opportunity to have an audience of educators who are interested in understanding their world in order to better advise and guide their students and the activities they practice in.  

I also think that by engaging students, businesses have some opportunities of their own. I think that first of all, they’re paying it forward by investing in future leaders in their own communities. They’re certainly developing a talent pipeline, engaging students in training apprenticeship. Other career-readiness opportunities at an early age helps companies build their future talent pipeline and that leads to things like employee retention, lower training costs in the long run, especially when we’re talking about high school activities and young people going directly into the workforce.  

I think another key opportunity for business partners in business advisory councils is, young people participating in opportunities with those businesses can bring new perspectives, innovative ways of doing things and can contribute to company teams with the proper guidance, of course. These students can be an asset to solving problems because of thinking outside the box, and some of those very 21st century skills that are inherently so native to our new generation of young people.  

Businesses have the opportunity to influence the curriculum in the ways that we’ve talked about today, helping to ensure that what’s taught in schools is relevant and that the skills, both the professional skills or what we’ve called soft skills, are embedded in the activity students are experiencing in school.  

Of course, there are tax benefits for businesses who donate materials, training, time for career mentorship, it’s advertisement for businesses that support local schools. They’re often acknowledged by schools as a sponsor and that branding piece, and working with schools to help parents develop their own understanding of how they can be career advisors to their students provides a unique opportunity and benefit for business partners as well.  

Of course, we all know that strong schools create a positive community for businesses to operate in and employees want to live and work where they feel connected to employers and so working with schools is a great way to engage with not only young people, but their parents as well. 

CLINT: That’s one of the things that we talked about with Dr. Diab earlier in the series from North Central State College was about educational attainment and how that brings prosperity to the community, not just prosperity, but positive growth culturally, economically in a variety of ways, and those business partnerships give business leaders a voice in education, like you said, and help support that curriculum development, how we’re developing employees for them so that they can be more successful in the jobs, and the businesses could be more successful in retaining those employees, developing those employees in the future, and their business grows. And then that, in turn, affects all of the things that we just talked about. When we talk about the economic landscape of the region, you have to work all the way backwards and we’ve already talked about going back to kindergarten and having input through partnerships and education. But that long you know all the way through. You’re talking 13 years of exposing young people to what’s available to them.  

So, you mentioned that through this business advisory councils, that’s a great way for these businesses to build those relationships with education, have that input, where do they find them? How do businesses who are not involved in a business advisory council? What’s the best way for them to make that connection? 

AMY: Well, first I’ll make a plug for Mid-Ohio’s Business Advisory Council. Our next convening is September 28th at 7:30 in the morning, so please share my contact information. I’d love to have additional business partners join us. We really would prefer to be at 51% business partners, with the remaining portion, education and other stakeholders, so get involved with a business advisory council in or near your community. Also, the Ohio Department of Education Business Advisory Council webpage has a listing of all the business advisory councils in the state.  

CLINT: So, the Mid-Ohio Business Advisory Council meets within the Richland County and Crawford County region. Who do they get in touch with to get to that or learn about future meetings of that? 

AMY: They can contact me at Mid-Ohio ESC. 

CLINT: And your email is correct?  

All right, I also have to mention that your career tech centers also have business advisory councils. Some regions set their business advisory councils up differently than others. There may be one for an entire county, or there could be two or three within the county, so you can explore that through your career tech website or your different high schools websites.  

So, one other thing I want to talk about is an exciting program that we’re developing here in the region that you’ve been working really hard on, called Ready to Hire. There are multiple components of this, and this is going to be a summer program and after school program and looking to grow it and move through the years with it funded through a grant that that SPARC got through the Ohio Department of Education. SPARC is a a group here within the region that provides career coaches in our area to schools, grades 6 through 12, and the goal is ultimately have career coaches in all of the schools. This is going to allow SPARC in mid-Ohio and the workforce development partners in the region to do a little bit more and grow those experiences and that career exploration for young people. Can you talk a little bit about what Ready to Hire is going to be? 

AMY: Sure, this is a great example of again, collaboration with business partners, community stakeholders, and the schools. So, as you said, SPARC Council was the applying entity, awarded entity for the READY FOR HIRE program. The goal for READY FOR HIRE is to increase career readiness so that students are prepared for life after high school. Its focus is on experiences that happen during out of school time. So, in summer and after school.  

The target group is high school students grades 9 through 12. They’ll be participating in a number of grant program activities that are aligned directly to the business advisory council quality practices, so this $1.9 million grant this investment in our communities in Richland, Morrow and Crawford Counties, is aligned with those quality practices and will help us align, amplify, and scale the career readiness efforts of the region. Students will participate in a number of activities from career seminar, which will include some career advising, some social/emotional learning activities that are targeted at developing soft skills that students need to be successful in the workplace, industry-recognized credentials, some career mentorships, and participate in some career strengths and interests, inventories and assessments to help guide their decision making throughout the rest of their high school career. 9th and 10th graders will be participating in Career Institute, so that’s an experience that you designed, Clint. Maybe I’ll let you talk about that more specifically. 

CLINT: So yeah, Career Institute is a component of the Ready to Tire, and it’s an opportunity for young people to work on a business problem. So, businesses bring an idea, an issue, or something that they want to develop a little bit further, and then we put together a group of students that could spend 2, 4, 6, 8 weeks working on this in a program that’s designed to meet the needs of the business and the students. So that they come back and present a solution to the problem. We’ve done this a couple of times. We just did this with Adena Corporation, which is a construction company, and the students did a cost analysis project based around their vinyl lettering on their trucks, and their signage and, and how they go about that aspect of the business.  

So, it’s a really unique opportunity for the students to get hands on, get in the building, and get into the work and show the companies what they’re able to do, what they’re able to come up with. I’m excited about that being a component of this, and we look forward to there being a lot more opportunities to create these career institute cohorts and focus groups. 

AMY: And one of the nice benefits of the READY FOR HIRE program is that teachers will have the opportunity to participate in inquiry-based learning techniques, so that as they’re leading instruction in those inquiry-based learning scenarios within Career Institute, we’re really strengthening the instructional component and that connection to relevance that we’ve talked about today. 

11th and 12th graders will focus on in-person paid internships. So, working at business and industry partner sites for a defined period of time with clear job duties, expectations for their performance, and the support to help them do those jobs. We’re looking forward to that piece especially, because it also brings the development of social capital for young people that gives them a person who provides information and contacts for employment and helps set them up for success in the future.  

Virtual reality technologies will also be a part of this, since we’ll have the opportunity to explore some career readiness VR modules, and get a taste of what that technology looks like, feels like in the career readiness space.  

We also have a parent engagement component, so parents as the real career advisors will have the opportunity to participate in some mini parent externships to get a sense for how they could be advising their children about the choices they make both in course selection as they’re in high school, and what kind of training they might need to pursue in the future to get into that best fit occupation. 

CLINT: So, one of the things I say over and over is that we have this responsibility to help young people learn what it is that they don’t want to do just as much as we are responsible to help them learn what they do want to do. These are a lot of opportunities for them to understand that. So, working backwards here, through things like the business advisory council and developing those business partnerships, making connection with education, after school and summer programs, Career Institute, that inquiry-based interest assessment, what do they really want to do? All of these partnerships are working towards creating that seamless talent pipeline in an efficient and effective manner. If we send young people out into the world having no idea what they want to do. Having very little hands on or experiential work and career inquiry, then it’s not as efficient if we just send them out there and say good luck, right? So, all of us in workforce development are looking for more business partners to come in and say hey, what is it that we can do to make this more efficient? What can we do together, is that fair? 

AMY: Yes, I think really coming together to help define for young people that path to a good job is where the work of heart really lies.  

CLINT: Right. What’s going to be the most successful path, and the most successful path is frequently the most efficient path. I joke a lot that I wandered for years, went to several colleges before I got done. I went from music to restaurant to sales, and that’s probably why I’m doing workforce development at this point. I had I had all of that.  

I appreciate you coming in and talking about all of this. This is an incredible amount of information. We talk about it on a weekly basis because we’re working in the same space. I appreciate you sharing all of this and your expertise with those listening to the podcast.  

If you are interested in getting involved and you’re looking for someone to talk to about it, feel free to reach out to Amy at Mid-Ohio Educational Service Center. You can reach me at the Richland Area Chamber and Economic Development at, and we can get you plugged in and get you a part of these programs and a part of the business advisory councils. Amy, thanks for coming on the podcast. 

AMY: Thank you as a pleasure. Grateful to be here. 

CLINT: That puts a wrap on Season One of the Workforce Pulse Podcast. If you missed episodes 1 through 6, go back to the beginning and check them all out wherever you listen to podcasts. Subscribe so that you know when Season 2 drops here in the near future.