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Oct 13th
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Life After High School

news2Nonprofit seeks to connect students with career inspiration

Local Cassidy Clawson had been working at his father’s Santa Cruz-based medical device manufacturing company, BC Tech, since he was young. When the company collapsed in 2010, the recent UC Santa Cruz graduate jumped into a van and drove cross country to do some soul searching. Somewhere between New Orleans and Texas, while pondering YouTube videos and fellow recent grads who were out of work, an epiphany hit.

“I thought, ‘Man there are so many good young people who are media creators and want to tell stories, so what story can we tell that would be useful to people?’” he says. “And I thought, ‘We need to make documentaries about inspiring working people and show them to kids.’ It hit me really in a split second.”

Now, Clawson is the founder and project director of Workaday Media, a volunteer-based nonprofit founded in 2011 that creates free web-based career education videos and activities for use in high school classrooms.

Clawson says he was motivated to create a way to connect the education students receive to the work they end up doing because of his personal experiences with the education system. He remembers feeling preoccupied as a child with the question, “What do you want to be when you grow up?”

“It seems like an injustice that we were supposed to be able to say what we wanted to be, but we really had no idea what anything was like or what our options were,” he says.

To remedy what he says is a broken system of connecting degrees to the workforce, Clawson began researching careers Workaday could potentially feature based on statistics from the U.S. Department of Labor and advocacy groups like the President’s Council for Jobs.

Workday's first project focused on mechanical engineering and debuted in Soquel High School classrooms starting toward the end of the 2011/2012 school year. The Workaday documentary team created a video that follows Nick Anderson from Santa Cruz Bicycles on the job. Then, Workaday members visited high school classrooms to talk about mechanical engineering and show the video as an example of someone who is enthusiastic about his mechanical engineering-related career. The Workaday staff then engaged students in a brainstorm discussion about mechanical engineering and monitored student reactions using anonymous questionnaires.

Bri Wiles is a ninth grade English teacher and 10th grade Advancement Via Individual Determination (AVID) teacher at Soquel High who has had Workaday present in several of her AVID classrooms. She says students came away with an understanding of a career 90 percent of them had never thought about.

Clawson says he was struck by the fact that, so far, when Workaday asks high school students what careers they are thinking of pursuing, they hear the same eight to 10 answers.

“It’s police officer, fireman, fashion designer, lawyer, doctor and a few others,” he says. “Those are great careers, but we were perplexed as to why it was this particular list. And we found that these are the high-status, high-risk jobs that are glamorized on television.”

Clawson says he hopes Workaday will become an alternative media for youth that depicts jobs that are not typically represented in pop culture.

According to the Santa Cruz County Community Assessment Project (CAP) 2012 Report, the local cohort dropout rate—meaning the rate of students that leave the ninth through 12th grade instructional system without a high school diploma, GED, or special education certificate of completion and do not remain enrolled after the end of their fourth year—increased from 11.2 percent in the 2009/2010 school year to 12.7 percent in the 2010/2011 school year.

Wiles says that while students can drop out of high school for many reasons, she thinks a predominant reason is that they do not see the connection between their education and life afterward.

“They don’t see the importance of what they're learning,” she says. “Exposing them to career education as early as possible, and giving education a little bit more relevance to their plans for after school, is so important. That’s what AVID is about, and it’s what Workaday is doing. Students really benefit from what they have to offer.”

Clawson and his team plan to make Workaday Media into a national program featuring underrepresented careers. They want to create videos that can be used alongside high school subject classroom curriculums as a tool for teachers to connect the subject at hand with its various workforce applications.

The team is designing a series of videos to relate jobs with high employment rates to particular high school classroom subjects.

For example, the fledgling nonprofit is currently designing its first subject classroom unit for high school biology classes. The unit will feature five or six documentaries that follow people in biology-related careers like biotech, healthcare, and bioengineering.

Thea Colton, the development director for Workaday, graduated in 2008 from San Francisco State University with a degree in creative writing and special education. She says she went into college with no idea what she wanted to be, and came out of college just as uncertain.

“Now that jobs are so scarce and it’s such a competitive job landscape, [our generation] went to college not knowing what we wanted to be and came out sort of lost,” Colton says. “We just want to try to fix that for the next generation so they can decide before they spend all this money and time on their degrees.” 

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