AchieveMpls helps students find great jobs that don’t require a four-year degree

Lots of Minnesota companies are looking high and low for skilled welders. They have an ally in AchieveMpls.

The mission of AchieveMpls—the strategic non-profit partner of the Minneapolis Public Schools—is to ensure the district’s graduates are ready to pursue their best career and post-secondary options. When a student shows an interest in an occupation like welding, its staff connects him or her with professionals in the field, and then assists the student in identifying—and applying to—the optimal training program.

In the past, the emphasis has been on getting a two or four-year college degree. But in 2016, AchieveMpls launched an innovative program called the Career Readiness Initiative (CRI). Based in AchieveMpls Career & College Centers at Roosevelt and Edison high schools, its goal is to make sure students know about all their post-secondary opportunities—including two-year technical degrees, certificates, internships, apprenticeships, and on-the-job training.

As part of CRI, volunteers from a variety of occupations come to classrooms once a month to talk to students about their own career journeys. The idea is to open kids’ minds to fields they may never have considered or even known about.

AchieveMpls staff help students explore their options in a strategic way. After evaluating student interest inventories (completed in junior year), they invite businesses like UPS and Bachmann’s, unions, and others to sit down with six to ten interested kids, answer their questions, and give them a good sense of what it’s like to work in their field.

CRI also organizes “speed-networking” events. Recently, AchieveMpls invited Elevate Minnesota—a group of 16 unions—to meet with high school seniors who had expressed an interest in the trades. The students circulated around the room, spent five or ten minutes with each union representative, and exchanged contact information. Other speed-networking events have featured representatives from Deloitte and United Health Group.

On May 19, AchieveMpls staged a CRI Career Pathways 2016-17 capstone event at Edison High School. At this event for tenth-graders, hundreds of students had a chance to speak with exhibitors like Xcel Energy; Fairview Health; Dakota County Technical College; New Horizons Computer Learning Centers; and unions including the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades; International Association of Sheet Metal, Air Rail and Transportation Workers, and the North Central States Regional Council of Carpenters.

One exhibitor was Buhler, Inc., an international company that makes machinery for processing flour, pasta and chocolate, among other things. Buhler’s North American headquarters is in Plymouth. The company has developed a European-style, three-year “learn and earn” apprenticeship to train young people, out of high school, to be customer service engineers.

One such apprentice, a recent high school grad, was there. He chatted with curious students about the program’s benefits and showed off things he had made as an apprentice.  “Instead of spending money on school, you’re making a lot of money here,” he told them. Not only that—it’s “fun” to master skills like drafting and computer-aided design.

AchieveMpls plans eventually to expand CRI beyond its two pilot high schools, Edison and Roosevelt. “The four-year colleges already have strong relationships with the high schools, which they’ve developed over many years,” says James Houston, CRI’s manager. “We want to create the same support structure for two-year colleges and other career paths. We’d like to see a technical college or apprenticeship become as common a goal for students as a four-year college degree.”

One challenge is that most employers and unions have little experience interacting with high school students. Achieve can help. “They just need to come here and be part of it,” says Houston. “We’ll give them access, and help them figure out the best way to market themselves to students.”