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Business AfterSchool Connects Students to Careers

Talent shortage is affecting a lot of businesses, some to a point where they have to cut hours or limit services

By Pia Hallenberg, Content by Pia

Educator Adam Smith with Student Tabby Smith. Photo by Rogue Heart Media/Luke Kenneally

Like so many other high school students Tabby Smith, a senior at Cheney High School, is not 100 percent sure which career path she is going to choose. She is interested in the corporate side of tech companies, and she also wants to spend some time overseas.

So, when Adam Smith, a Career and Technical Education teacher at Cheney High School, reached out to his students to attend the GSI Business AfterSchool workshop of the new Amazon facility on West Plains, Tabby jumped at the opportunity.

“It was very smoothly run. Everyone was standing up working, and we met people who work in all kinds of management,” Tabby Smith said. “I was really impressed with this 20-year-old who had been promoted to management within a couple of weeks there.”

Amazon was one of six in-person workshops after the pandemic that GSI organized for its Business AfterSchool program. In-person tours were not an option during COVID, so Adam Smith was excited to be able to take students to Amazon.

“We want to take the students to all the different career opportunities,” Adam Smith said, adding that he’s dreaming of having a small bus available to make transportation easier. “The value of tours like the one we did at Amazon can simply not be overstated.”

Business AfterSchool evolved from the high school career fairs GSI used to organize, said Cassidy Peterson, Career Connected Learning Manager at GSI.

“We wanted to continue to do career fairs but in a different way and with more impact,” Peterson said.

Any business in the Spokane area can sign up to host a Business AfterSchool workshop. The business’ commitment is to put on a two-hour program for local middle and/or high school students, usually from 3-5 p.m.

“Perhaps students have driven by Pyrotek and wonder what they do,” Peterson said. “Our goal is to expose the students to the business and the business to the students – it’s a matchup of local businesses and local talent.”

One thing that’s often surprising to the students is how professionals weave their way through and to a career.

“The students love to hear the personal stories and they realize that a career usually doesn’t go straight from point A to B,” Peterson said. “Sometimes you start in one place and end up in a completely different place.”

She added that a successful workshop often includes a hands-on element and a tour of the worksite. Peterson said each workshop is business-driven so there is no wrong way to host a group of students.

“The important thing for us is that the students get to experience a local business,” Peterson said.

During the COVID pandemic, Business After-School conducted virtual tours at Wagstaff, Community-Minded Television and UW School of Medicine. This spring, workshops were hosted by Bernardo|Wills Architects, CHAS Health, TDS Fiber, and Amazon, among other places.

“We are interested in highlighting all kinds of businesses and careers,” Peterson said. “We want students to know there are many different career paths besides going to college and getting a bachelor’s degree. You can work and be very successful in the trades too.”

“We have some students that come all the way from Inchelium. We welcome all students in the eastern Washington school districts.”

The business decides if it’s a better fit to host high school or middle school students.

“The best tours are the ones where the host makes their industry come alive,” Peterson said. “Maybe there is an activity, or maybe the students are broken out into smaller teams to work on a project. Almost anything goes.”

Adam Smith said that high school students know all the “right” answers to career questions, but sometimes there is a disconnect between what’s perceived to be cool – like studying abroad – and what the student realistically can achieve.

“The reality for a lot of the students is that they don’t have the capacity or the financial backing to study overseas or go to a big college far away,” Adam Smith said. “In high school, there is a high status associated with saying that you are going to study abroad. So, it’s really important to plant the seeds in the students that there are other great options.”

He said he’s very thankful for the businesses that are already participating in Business AfterSchool, and he’s hopeful more will sign up.

“Businesses should not underestimate the value of trips like this and the impact working with their local schools can have,” Adam Smith said. “Many kids come right back home after a stint abroad or being away for college, and they need to know what is available right here in their community.”

Tabby Smith’s summer plans included an internship at Wagstaff’s Production and Manufacturing Academy, and as much summer work as she could find. She’s not rejecting finding her future career in Spokane but said her dream is to go abroad first.

“I really want to work internationally – experience new cultures, new food, I would enjoy getting lost in a new country,” Tabby Smith said. “I speak French and I’m learning Japanese and Korean. But I can see myself always owning a couple of properties right here at home.”

Businesses interested in getting involved in GSI’s education and talent work may contact Peterson at GSI. The same goes for school districts that’d like to be part of career-connected learning. “We’re working on ‘what’s next’ for Business AfterSchool and optimizing access to career experiences for students,” said Peterson.

More information can be found at businessafterschool.com.

*The GSI Connect Magazine is published in partnership with the Spokane Journal of Business. To read the 2022-2023 edition of the magazine view the digital publication here or contact us to pick up your copies today.

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