Aspire program to expand, connect more kids to local careers

From networking at KYB to going on Zoom field trips at Milwaukee Tool, the Aspire Johnson County school-to-work program has a goal of connecting thousands of Johnson County students to employment opportunities.

That goal has been bolstered by a $10,000 grant the Johnson County Community Foundation received from the TCU Foundation, the charitable arm of Teachers Credit Union. The grant will continue to fund the program, which started last year, once a grant from the Indiana Department of Education expires in September. Money from the grant will pay for trips to learn about businesses and certification opportunities, such as a trip 32 students took to Mascatatuck Urban Training Center to learn about cyber careers from Ivy Tech Community College Cyber Academy representatives, said Jennifer Hollingshead, Aspire’s school-to-work specialist.

Hollingshead works as a liaison between business representatives and Johnson County public school students, with the goal of providing students with more opportunities to interact with employers and explore career fields. During the summer, Hollingshead organized tours for teachers and guidance counselors at companies such as Endress+Hauser, NSK and Johnson Memorial Health, which helped them gain knowledge about job opportunities they could take back to their students.

“It was great to introduce teachers to employers. They could ask questions about the types of skills they were looking for and the levels of education needed to work for them,” she said.

For students, there were opportunities via job fairs at local schools and trips to visit some of the companies represented at those fairs, she said.

Greenwood Community High School junior James Holton was able to tour the KYB and Rapid Prototyping & Engineering Inc. in February. While at KYB, he met Kristy King, the company’s senior manager of human resources, who told him to stay in touch for employment opportunities once he left high school, Holton said.

“I knew it would be a good opportunity to get myself out there and network with the HR director of KYB. Kristi gave me a lot of inside information and I was interested in seeing the manufacturing business from an inside perspective,” he said. “I learned about the manufacturing process and their three main facilities. If they’re making piston rods, for example, one facility creates the rod, another creates the utility that holds the rod and another facility cleans the product.”

At Rapid Prototyping & Engineering Inc., Holton said he learned about the company’s process of testing blueprints for feasibility. While Holton isn’t interested in manufacturing as a career, he found value in the tour as a way to network and learn about industry. Holton plans to become a financial advisor, and is currently searching for companies to work with, he said.

“These opportunities give students a chance to network with employers,” Holton said. “You can get out there so you’re not lost when you’re looking for jobs. I want to go into business, and the tours can help you with the knowledge to understand business more.”

Hollingshead hopes to expand the program further during the upcoming school year to include opportunities for middle and elementary school students. Opportunities such as job fairs will help kids start to think about the possibilities that are open to them locally as they get older, Hollingshead said.

“I think a lot of kids are just aware of the jobs their parents do or things they see in the community, but there are so many careers in Johnson County kids may not be exposed to,” she said. “We’re just trying to help them have more awareness of what exists so they can consider that as they grow up, go to college and study for that career. Whatever path they take, we hope they come back or stay in Johnson County.”