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From left, moderator Catherine Bass Black asks about tangible benefits of experiential learning to a panel of Shawn Randles, Tammy James and Greg Herren.
From left, moderator Catherine Bass Black asks about tangible benefits of experiential learning to a panel of Shawn Randles, Tammy James and Greg Herren.

Panel: Businesses should get into experiential learning

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For employers and educators considering experiential learning in their workplace or school, the time to act is now, according to participants of a Nov. 8 panel discussion on the topic at the Springfield Area Chamber of Commerce.

Panelists Shawn Randles, Tammy James and Greg Herren shared their exposure to experiential learning before approximately 40 attendees at the chamber’s ongoing workforce event series.

While not exclusively involving hands-on experiences, experiential learning provides students and workers opportunities to learn about jobs through internships and apprenticeships.

Randles, superintendent of the Logan-Rogersville School District, said he sees experiential learning as hands-on experience many teachers in his district might not be able to offer students. Most teachers went from classrooms as students to more classrooms as educators, he said, and can’t relay the actual workplace experiences that businesses are looking for when hiring.

Moderator Catherine Bass Black with Bass Pro Shops questioned the panel on why experiential learning is garnering more attention today.

“I don’t think it’s ever gone away,” Randles said. “I think the reason that it’s resurfaced now is because the baby boomers are aging out and less of a workforce is going into jobs that are in high demand right now.”

Randles said that’s why programs such as the Greater Ozarks Centers for Advanced Professional Studies is so important.

Logan-Rogersville is among the school districts that participate in the GO CAPS programs for both students, about 250-300 per year, and teacher externships, which drew 64 area educators in the summer, said Alex Greiwe, project manager for workforce development with the chamber.

The chamber coordinates the teacher externships, aiming to give educators exposure to other careers that they can bring back to the classroom to share with students. Programs like it and apprenticeships are gaining more attention, Greiwe said.

“Especially recently as companies are looking more into the future how to fill that talent pipeline – not just now but five to 10 years in the future,” she said.

Some of the opportunities for high school students might lead to jobs with the companies they visit, Randles said, rather than a journey to college. He said the school district’s philosophy nowadays is to not push students into college.

“We realize not every kid is cut out to go to college, and not every job that kids can be successful at and make a good living in and support their family requires a college degree either,” he said.

James, the human resources supervisor at City Utilities of Springfield, agreed adults have pushed students in the past into getting a four-year degree. She noted if that’s the student’s goal, it’s still important. However, the current skilled workforce of manual laborers is not where it needs to be, she added.

“We are now at a generation where we are missing those employees who want to be craft workers,” James said. “We need those people who have the hands-on experience that want to do the technical work and want to be gas or water system installers.”

CU also has been a participant in the GO CAPS program. James noted when students come to visit the company facilities, they are regularly surprised at the number of jobs offered.

“We have a broad base there, and not all of them require four-year degrees,” she said. “I’m a big proponent of the different programs that are available because I think they’ll benefit the students, but it benefits the businesses because you get a new outlook,” she said. “You get new blood – people who have new ideas.”

There’s no substitute for experience, said Herren, general manager at Multi-Craft Contractors Inc. When it comes to learning trades, until one actually performs the work, he said they’re never going to be able to master it.

“Many of the very good jobs that are available for young people today and in the future are going to be jobs where you’re going to have to, yes, certainly study the basics and understand metallurgy or those types of sciences,” he said. “But at some point, you’re going to have to go out and work.”

Herren said his company, which is also a GO CAPS participant, has started to help the Missouri Department of Corrections with curriculum for stainless steel welding, noting that could lead to plenty of jobs in Springfield. The DOC is a resource for companies looking to hire people who have served their time in prison and are looking to re-establish their place in the workforce, he said.

According to the DOC, an average of more than 19,000 inmates get out of prison each year, and 69 percent of offenders who’ve never had full-time employment return to prison within two years. That number drops to 23 percent if they previously held a full-time job.

“We’re excited about that particular experiential program,” Herren said. “Missouri is very, very in tune to workforce development right now. So, if you have an idea where you can work with a group like the prison population and help them acclimatize to work after they get out, they’re all for it.”

Regardless of whether an employer looks to the DOC or students bypass college, Randles said companies should consider getting involved in experiential learning.

“I don’t think there’s any time to waste. You have to,” he said. “If you want the next generation of employees to be ready, then you have to be willing to meet them where they are.”

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