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The Boys & Girls Clubs of America are better known for after-school homework help and volunteer opportunities than for cutting-edge career development.
But ask kids at some Boys and Girls Club chapters in states like Indiana, Montana, and Washington, and they might tell you they’re surrounded by high-tech tools that help them envision their future.
Lana Taylor, executive director of the Indiana Alliance of the Boys & Girls Clubs, said her staff began looking for ways to reengage students — especially middle schoolers — as the pandemic subsided and children returned. to in-person programs. Since kids tend to love technology and hands-on learning, Taylor thought it was only natural to develop programming that uses both.
In February 2022, Indiana Boys & Girls Clubs launched a partnership with immersive tech startup Transfr to introduce students at 10 of its clubs to new career and workforce opportunities. Along with the collaboration came a new focus on workforce preparation at the Indiana Department of Education. Now, the partnership between Transfr and the clubs is expanding to 21 additional clubs across Indiana thanks to a state grant.
“Just having the experience and being exposed to it has been really good, even for the little guys. Because what we find is that you have to start early.
Lana Taylor, executive director of the Indiana Alliance of the Boys & Girls Clubs
Transfr uses virtual reality to develop immersive career and workforce training simulations for industries such as manufacturing, carpentry, public safety, hospitality and automotive. In 2021, the company began working with multiple Boys and Girls Clubs in Washington State and Montana to adapt this training for K-12 students.
Taylor said the program was a great fit for Indiana club students because the simulations introduced them to industries they hadn’t thought of.
“Just having the experience and being exposed to it has been really good, even for the little guys. Because what we find is that you have to start early,” she said. “For middle school, high schools — they get there thinking, ‘I’m going to be out of school in two years. Here’s what I’d like to do. It was really fun. I’d like to figure out how I can do it.’ that.
Related: COLUMN: Helping middle school students think about a future beyond the pandemic
After students have completed a series of simulations, they are asked to answer questions gauging their interest in the field. Taylor said it helps her team organize internships and apprenticeships with local businesses.
Brian Hartz, owner of Transfr’s virtual training business, said the training meets a lot of kids where they are.
“Young people are naturally more comfortable with any new technology than people more established in their careers,” he said. There is also a huge need in many skilled trades industries for a pipeline of future job candidates, he added. This demand is helping to spur a growing movement of career exploration at a younger age.
The National Boys and Girls Club also emphasizes workforce development for youth, Taylor said.
And in Indiana, the state Department of Education announced in 2021 that career exploration and post-secondary preparation would be a requirement in its schools. The department will also evaluate school districts in part on their career readiness work.
Taylor said many of the clubs’ high school attendees, as well as college-aged AmeriCorps members who serve as staff and volunteers, seek non-traditional pathways after graduation. Virtual reality simulations give them exposure to jobs that may not require a four-year degree.
It’s not just older kids that clubs in Indiana hope to expand opportunities for. According to Taylor, the college age group has now become one of the clubs’ priorities. During the pandemic, she said, club staff were mostly concerned with supporting younger kids and providing opportunities for high schoolers, but there weren’t many programs for middle-grade kids. .
Taylor said clubs across the state are now focusing on those students. A work-based learning program that will use Transfr’s VR headsets is designed specifically for college students. It gives these students the opportunity to learn about jobs and careers and to become “junior staff members” of the Boys and Girls Club by devoting 50 hours of service to the club.
“They are kind of the lost generation right now. We didn’t really have a lot of opportunities for them,” Taylor said. “So we’ve really expanded and tried to make sure we have specific programming for them.”
This story about virtual reality and career education was produced by The Hechinger Report, an independent, nonprofit news organization focused on inequality and innovation in education. Register for Hechinger’s newsletter.
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