Drive for Five continues effort to retain talent

December 19, 2018

There are more than 600 available job positions in Columbus but not enough talent to fill them, according to one local organization leader.

The numbers propelled Drive for Five Coordinator Kara Asmus to reach out to youth as young as fourth grade in an effort to grow the future local workforce. The Columbus Area Chamber of Commerce’s Drive for Five program was established in 2007 with the goal of recruiting and retaining 500 workers in the workforce during a three-year course.

Among the many Drive for Five workforce development initiatives include job fairs, recruiting trips, intern networking events and community tours.

Since partnering up with Columbus Public and Lakeview Community schools in 2010, Asmus has worked closely with district officials to expose students to local opportunities. The partnership ultimately formed College Week, a workforce development program encouraging students to think ahead for their careers.

This year, the program began on Tuesday and will run until Thursday at Central Community College involving CPS fourth graders from Emerson, West Park, Centennial, Lost Creek and North Park elementary schools. Lakeview students will begin their College Week in February 2019.

Asmus said students learned how grades, community service and finances can affect their post-secondary and career plans.

“Good grades are important for your career choice,” Asmus said. “They are important for you to attain scholarships and it gives them a chance to begin saving money at this age so, by the time they get to college, they can better afford it. It gets them thinking about volunteer work and things that will help them scholarships in the long run.”

In groups, students took part in campus tours guided by CCC representatives, attended college classes, familiarized themselves with several career clusters like agriculture, food and natural resources, architecture and construction, as well as put together a vision board.

“I think it’s great for kids to start thinking about college and careers, even though they are only in fourth grade,” said Wendy Petersen, school counselor at West Park Elementary School. “Kind of linking what they are learning and doing now and how that’s going to impact their futures.”

Petersen said many students hold off on future planning until their senior year of high school, which can lead to high stress. Peterson hopes students will break off from that habit and start planning their futures in elementary school.

Because one of Nebraska Extension-Platte County’s main focuses is college and career readiness, Asmus said it made sense to partner with the organization for the program.

Jill Goedeken, extension educator in Platte County, led the Discovering Careers session in which students explored the availability of the different career clusters in Columbus.

“I always invite Jill (Goedeken) because of her expertise,” Asmus said.

Through these different activities, Asmus hopes students can visualize themselves attending college and working toward the careers of their choice.

“It’s intended to teach kids what opportunities are available for them here and why they might want to stay in town,” Asmus said.

Natasya Ong is a reporter for The Columbus Telegram. Reach her via email at natasya.ong@lee.net.

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