Volume XIX | Issue 1 | Spring 2019
Yreka High School culinary arts students (with adviser Cheri Yapes) helped prepare a meal for participants of the career and technical education night in Siskiyou County. Photo: Courtesy of SOAR

A targeted plan of action

Program focuses on job readiness, hiring needs and employment

There was a hubbub of activity at last fall’s career and technical education night at Etna High School. About 80 people, many of whom drove for an hour to get to the remote Northern California town, clustered around industry-specific tables in the school multipurpose room. Lively discussions about job readiness, employment opportunities and hiring needs dotted the room.

 a countywide network for career pathways

Annual business and industry nights are a regular event in Siskiyou County, but this one was special. It marked the public debut of a new initiative that promises to meld several ongoing efforts into one targeted plan for action. SOAR, the Siskiyou Occupational Advancement Roadmap, is a collaborative grant-funded project designed to help increase access to job skills while furthering local employers’ connections to skilled people.

SOAR’s purpose is to build a job readiness strategy for Siskiyou County that will clarify employment pathways for students and identify gaps between classrooms and job opportunities.

After high school culinary arts students prepared and served a tri-tip meal, participants at the dinner used the laptop sitting on every table to complete online surveys. Employers, for example, were asked about challenges in hiring, training and maintaining employees. Educators were polled on obstacles to delivering CTE services to their students.  The survey results, which were available immediately, were turned back to groups for further discussion and planning.

“It was an awesome event,” says Paula Reynolds of Great Northern Services, which is coordinating the project. “The greatest thing for me was that the chefs got involved in the conversation. There was a sea of adults and a table of kids who wanted to take the survey. They were planning their future.”

Information gathering activities such as those done at career and technical education night will provide the feedback and statistical data needed to forge a path forward. SOAR’s project plan includes a comprehensive plan to survey business, educational, governmental and student populations on everything related to career and technical education. Online surveys are available on the SOAR site for employers, students and educators. Results of surveys for the last three years are also available online. Already, surveys have determined that students need support in basic employability skills such as interpersonal communication.

Reynolds serves as project manager for SOAR, which is supported by funding from The Ford Family Foundation and includes collaborators from across Siskiyou County. 

“Siskiyou County is experiencing an increasing loss of young people. They leave to go to school, to travel, and it’s anyone’s guess if they are ever going to come back,” Reynolds says. “SOAR’s goal is to create more opportunities, to allow more people to stay and work here and in doing that, to strengthen our economy as a whole. SOAR aims to serve students and businesses needs as well.” 

Not a new effort 

Efforts to bring business and education together are not new in Siskiyou County. “Other people have had this idea — it’s been out there in the county in different places,” says Bright Nichols-Stock, a business and technology instructor at Mount Shasta High School and a Ford Scholar (Class of 1995). “But what really brought it to light for me was a study I did for my doctoral dissertation, which identified a significant gap between teachers in the classroom and business and industry. It was glaring for me, and that is how this whole process began.”

After several years of sometimes competing efforts, a unified proposal for a countywide effort began taking shape about three years ago. SOAR’s proposal to The Ford Family Foundation was funded in September 2017, and Reynolds was hired in February 2018. A part-time strategic planning facilitator also has joined the two-year project.

Actionable initiatives

The ultimate result of the process, which is scheduled to end Jan. 1, 2020, will be a plan with up to three actionable initiatives for the community. Within five years, project organizers hope to have a countywide network providing job training and career pathways.

“Our goal is really to help grow our economic infrastructure throughout the county by providing work-based learning opportunities for students,” says Nichols-Stock, “so they can begin to prepare themselves to pursue a career or job in a local industry sector that will be hiring.”  

Online surveys and more information:  https://www.gnservices.org/SOAR

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