Episode 104 VR Workforce Studio
Career Pathways and the Groundhog’s Job Shadow
Singers: VR Workforce Studio
McKenzie Pleasant: It’s a little bit crazy but I enjoy it. I’ll bet you are tierd, three, four and five year olds they can keep you moving. I’ve always done really good with little kids, since I mean even when I was younger.
Steve Sweeney: Four…three..two….one…. VR Workforce Studio, podcasting the sparks that ignite vocational rehabilitation through the inspiring stories of people with disabilities who have gone to work.
Jered Lem: Tech Support this is Jered speaking how may I help you?
Rose Hilderbrand: I have a position at Masco Cabinetry.
Alfred McMillan: I’m a supervisor at Sedexo.
Steve Sweeney: As well as the professionals who have helped them.
James Hall: A job, and a career, you got to look at how life changing this is.
Steve Sweeney: And the businesses who have filled their talent pipelines with workers that happen to have disabilities.
Debby Hopkins: To help expand registered apprenticeship.
Steve Sweeney: These are their stories.
Megan Healy: Because there is such a great story to tell about people with disabilities.
Steve Sweeney: Now here is the host of the VR workforce studio. Rick Sizemore.
Rick Sizemore: Welcome to episode 104 of the VR Workforce Studio podcast. Rick Sizemore here, along with the fabulous and talented Betsy Civilette, what’s up Betsy?
Betsy Civilette: Hey Rick, you know we are working our way through 2022. In some parts of the country people like me are ready for spring. But snow unfortunately was still on the ground February 2nd in Pennsylvania, where our good friend Punxsutawney Phil saw his shadow and scurried back into his burrow, meaning we can expect cold weather for another six weeks.
Rick Sizemore: Well, everyone loves Groundhog Day, especially the movie. And I know you’ve seen that movie, right?
Betsy Civilette: Yeah, at least 10 times. And if you’ve seen the movie you know the main character, Phil Connor, played by Bill Murray, lives the same day over and over again on Groundhog Day.
Rick Sizemore: Yes, and he lives that same day over and over and over trying out many new things he’s never tried before. He works on cars, he becomes a musician, he becomes an ice sculptor, just like so many of our DARS clients are exploring career opportunities during Job Shadowing Month.
Betsy Civilette: Yes, and job shadowing month actually began as Groundhog Job Shadow Day, which takes place on February 2nd, the same day as Groundhog Day, but its name being a play off the holiday’s name that has morphed into Job Shadowing Month with a focus on activities that offer young people transitioning into the workforce an opportunity to shadow someone in the work place.
Rick Sizemore: Well, our show today is all about job shadowing. Later, Betsy talks with Michelle Dunnavant of Strivven Media about the virtual job shadowing they offer online as we explore how DARS is providing online, as well as hands on job shadowing opportunities for students all across Virginia.
Betsy Civilette: If you are a young person, especially with a disability, job shadowing offers you a powerful opportunity to dive right in and explore careers you’ve been interested in. And parents and guardians also get excited about seeing these first steps in career planning.
Rick Sizemore: And the leaders of business and industry are excited about your exploration because it helps them attract future workers into their talent pipelines. The extraordinary array of opportunities emerging through DARS is spearheaded by our business development managers. We begin today with DARS Business Development Manager, Beth Groff. Welcome to the podcast, Beth.
Beth Groff: Thank you for having me. I appreciate it.
Rick Sizemore: Beth, tell us what you’re trying to accomplish through these job shadowing events.
Beth Groff: Our goal for February, which is National Job Shadow Month, is to bring real world experiences and really show our young people what it’s like to work as a veterinary assistant, what it’s like to work as a receptionist or a certified nurse’s assistant or an RN. We really have focused on every activity being strictly discussing what happens in that job more so than just here are our benefits, here is the kind of work we do, here’s our mission, but we really have tried to highlight the work that is actually being done. We’re doing this virtually and I think that we’re doing a pretty good job at it. It’s been very enlightening for me and I hope certainly for our young people and the other folks that have joined us on our virtual calls.
Rick Sizemore: With the challenges that business faces in the workforce finding qualified employees, are you finding business owners being more open to the idea of hiring someone with a disability?
Beth Groff: Absolutely. It’s interesting, our environment right now with the focus on highlighting and accepting abilities of all different types of people, I think that in itself has opened more doors for people with disabilities. I really have felt really good about our agency and our Wilson Workforce. We really are out in the community a lot, and I do feel that businesses are embracing the qualified candidates that we have now because there’s such a need for workers. And so we are really excited to show what our candidates can do as well as how we can support businesses in developing that pipeline and developing that employee. So it really is a good time for all job seekers, but I think also especially folks with disabilities because I do think people are a little more open minded these days.
Rick Sizemore: Beth Groff is a Business Development Manager with the Virginia Department for Aging and Rehabilitative Services. Thank you for being on our podcast today, Beth.
Beth Groff: Thank you for having me. I appreciate it.
Betsy Civilette: Rick, the pandemic has had devastating effects on so many facets of our world, especially in economically challenged and rural areas. But the one thing that seems to define vocational rehabilitation is resilience.
Rick Sizemore: And a great example of that resilience comes to us from Norton, Virginia. Melissa Woods Clark is a Vocational Rehabilitation Counselor from Southwest Virginia, joins us now to talk about how they’re using job shadowing to help students explore the workforce.
Melissa Wood’s Clark: It’s really about just putting those lists together of those kids who want to do those things and then talking to employers and it’s really about us doing what we ask the students to do, which is put ourselves out of our comfort zone a little bit and take a little bit of a risk that somebody’s going to say no.
Rick Sizemore: That’s exactly right.
Melissa Wood’s Clark: The answer might be yes! You don’t know until you ask.
Rick Sizemore: It certainly could be.
Melissa Wood’s Clark: And I’ll tell you one of the things that I did. This is probably the only thing that I would even tell you was remotely creative and it’ll tell you a bit more about some of these folks. All over social media I keep seeing things talking about how COVID has impacted the world of work. And everyone is talking about how folks don’t want to go to work, they’re talking about minimum wage changes, they’re talking about lack of experiences for our kids in our rural areas.
Melissa Wood’s Clark: So I finally, in November, had been working a little bit with some of these folks already, but I actually went on my personal Facebook page and I put out an all call and I literally encouraged people to put their money where their mouths were and said that I had a lot of very talented friends on Facebook and I wanted to know who was interested in opening their doors to some of these students so we could whet the students’ appetites for these opportunities so that they don’t feel like the whole world is closed. And I had several that stepped up and said hey, contact me, contact me. So we have several students who want to talk about pet grooming, but it just so happens I have a friend whose daughter has opened up a pet grooming business called Far Fetched.
Rick Sizemore: That’s awesome.
Melissa Wood’s Clark: I know, it’s so cute. It’s Far Fetched Grooming and we have two or three other grooming businesses that have stepped out into the region just here recently as well. I start with who I know and work myself out in concentric circles as we go.
Rick Sizemore: Of course.
Rick Sizemore: McKenzie Pleasant joins us from King Christian Academy in Big Stone Gap, Virginia. Welcome to the podcast. McKenzie, tell us what you’ve been doing.
McKenzie Pleasant: Yeah, definitely. I’ve been helping the teachers like Miss Monica, with the three, four and five year olds, which is a little bit crazy, but I enjoy it so…
Rick Sizemore: I bet you are tired. Three, four, and five year olds, they can keep you moving!
McKenzie Pleasant: I’ve always, always done really good with little kids since even I was younger because I used to go to actually another daycare when I lived in Tennessee and I was one of the oldest kids there so I would always help out with the younger kids. So ever since then, I’ve always really wanted to be a teacher or do something with smaller kids, like three and four year olds. I want to do speech therapy for little children like this because, especially when I was little, I had to go to speech therapy and I always really enjoyed it cause the teachers made it fun for me.
Rick Sizemore: So how will today help you along your pathway to moving into the workforce, possibly to be a speech therapist?
McKenzie Pleasant: Just understanding how kids work and being around them more, I feel like would help me.
Betsy Civilette: Rick, in Northern Virginia students are using the virtual platforms to get ready for employment.
Rick Sizemore: Polina Leonova is a student at McLean High School and recently went through a virtual job shadowing event. Tell us what you were involved in, Polina.
Polina Leonova: So I’ve been doing interviews, getting ready to how to work, resume, and then how to get ready for work. For example, we watch the video and then how to get ready, like what to wear and how to behave.
Rick Sizemore: So what kind of work do you think you’d like to do in the future?
Polina Leonova: I like childhood. I like helping people.
Rick Sizemore: What other kinds of vocational rehabilitation have you been involved in?
Polina Leonova: I just got a job, sorry, about groceries, grocery store. I like bagging, I like talking people, friends, basically that.
Rick Sizemore: We also have hands on job shadowing opportunities in places like James Madison University, where John was able to explore landscaping jobs.
John: I wanted to know how to use the lawnmower. It sounded fun.
Rick Sizemore: John’s VR counselor, Anna Stark, is part of the team at the DARS office in Harrisonburg. She’s been involved in setting up job shadowing at James Madison University through their Facilities Management area. Geospatial engineering services, trades, HVAC, plumbing, Anna you’ve got it all here. Tell us what you’re trying to do with these job shadowing experiences.
Anna Stark: So really just trying to provide a whole bunch of experiences for students so that they can better be prepared for their future and start to work towards those goals in those career pathways.
Rick Sizemore: You have so many things going on, but I have to put you on the spot. Is there one particular student who had an aha moment that really left a lasting impression with you?
Anna Stark: I have a couple seniors that actually got to tour JMU and a lot of them are almost ready to enter the workforce once they graduate in June. So I did have at least three that were telling me afterwards they would like to definitely look into employment and they currently do some landscaping on the side now and they work within their schools to go to MTC and do different types of building trades and learn about the educational components of those types of jobs and then they’re practicing the hands on independently.
Rick Sizemore: If you could leave our listeners with the most important message you have about the value of job shadowing, what would you say?
Anna Stark: I would say take the time to explore. Take the time to engage and trying something does not necessarily mean that that is exactly what you’re going to be doing. I think it is extremely insightful and necessary to help support the development and the understanding and the opportunities that turn into employment. So definitely try it all and don’t shy away from something just because you’re unsure. I would encourage everybody to determine for themselves, even if something sounds a certain way or a job, you may not have considered a lot of beautiful things can come out of that. And therefore I would definitely want everybody to just take a look at everything and all that they can in the world of employment.
Rick Sizemore: Anna Stark is a Vocational Rehabilitation Counselor with the Virginia Department for Aging and Rehabilitative Services. Thanks for being on our podcast.
Anna Stark: Thank you so much for having me.
Betsy Civilette: So if you are a person with a disability then job shadowing, even virtual job shadowing, might be the perfect way for you to explore different careers. Our next guest works for a partner of DARS who created a fabulous online career exploration resource, something near and dear to those in VR. We have Shelly Dunnavant, who’s Vice President of Sales at Strivven Media. They are the creators of virtualjobshadow.com, which is a leader in the field of career exploration for students of all ages. So welcome, Shelly.
Michelle Dunnavant: Thanks so much for me, Betsy. Nice to be here.
Betsy Civilette: Well, great. First give us a little background on the virtualjobshadow.com platform. Who uses it and what type of content and curriculum do you have and what are some of the most popular job shadowing videos?
Michelle Dunnavant: Absolutely. So our platform serves anyone from sixth grade and up. I like to say whether you are 12, 13 years old, up to 105, trying to figure out what you want to be when you grow up, our platform will serve you well. So our platform, it works really well, especially in sixth grade through 12th grade, we sell to a lot of school districts. However, we also serve workforce agencies as well as rehab agencies, private, nonprofit companies. So we really serve a very wide variety of customer.
Michelle Dunnavant: And some of the most popular job shadowing videos, our Aerospace Engineer is one of our top ones. We also have a Marine Mammalogist, which is a really fun video to watch if you love animals. The Vet Tech seems to get a lot of plays as well. And then our Choreographer and our Graphic Designer are probably next two, so that’s our top five.
Betsy Civilette: No football players and professional athletes.
Michelle Dunnavant: Surprisingly not. We do have a couple of those. We have some really fun ones. So if you keep exploring and you find those, absolutely there’s some really great ones.
Betsy Civilette: Well, how has virtualjobshadow.com established itself as the leading career exploration and planning platform?
Michelle Dunnavant: That’s a great question. You know, it takes time. We started back in 2012 and really built and really came about in 2014 as a product. And we built from there. And I think because we’re so relevant, it’s something that students and people can relate to in the video format. They don’t have to read everything. And from there we just started to listen to customer feedback, like you and your company and organization. And we took that and we started to build on pieces as we went along. And so we’re ever evolving, we are never stagnant and I think that’s really what has attributed to our success. We added a whole new video set in our production back in 2020, and it happened to be aligned right when COVID hit, we released 35 new videos called Life Skills videos and we now have over 400 on our platform that are outside of our career profiles.
Betsy Civilette: Wow, that’s a lot of videos. So our agency, DARS, uses the platform, especially for our Pre-employment Transition Services students. So tell us how Virtual Job Shadow has collaborated with vocational rehabilitation and special education to ensure the development of content that meets the requirements of our Pre-ETS as we call them, Pre-employment Transition Services.
Michelle Dunnavant: Absolutely. So it’s really interesting how we started to find that we really aligned nicely with the goals of vocational rehab programs and Pre-ETS. It started with, first, us talking with a teacher who said I took my student’s IEP and I aligned it with your goal building section. So we have a short term and a long term goal section where students can write what their goals are and if you make those smart, the more likely they are to accomplish them. And so they had built that in along with their IEP on our platform and found that it worked so nicely. So that was like a aha moment for us and we’re like, well, what else can we do here? Because we love to say that we really feature our platform for all students and all people, and we really want to make that attainable and inclusive as is possible.
Michelle Dunnavant: And so from there, what we did is we hired a director of learning solutions that had a background in VR, over 20 years experience and what he did, he came on board. He began to write what we call our flex lessons, which really catered to the needs of Pre-ETS as well as transition students. And so that’s really been our entry into really trying to find all of the ways in which we could serve the VR population and the Pre-ETS population and transition. Which led us into a whole other area where we created videos in collaboration with VCU called Work Is For Everyone, so it’s a whole series of people with disabilities because we want everyone to know that there’s a place for them in the workforce and we want them to see themselves in the workforce. So whether it’s a seen or unseen disability, we try to feature everyone.
Betsy Civilette: Besides being a virtual platform for videos, you’re saying there’s a curriculum aspect of it. Could you expand a little more on the lessons that students can utilize on this platform?
Michelle Dunnavant: Absolutely. So when you log in and you have a license with us, essentially you have access to our flex lessons. What that allows you to do is go into the section called VJS Lessons and we have prebuilt, I believe, it’s 52 lessons at this point, that serve all different types. So there are employability soft skills there, there are social and emotional lessons there, there are the Pre-ETS programs or lessons there, and you can choose from that assortment or utilize all of them throughout the year. We also have an entire section and it’s called A New Lesson so you can build from scratch any lesson that you want, so it can really be customized and tailored to the needs of your students or your clients.
Betsy Civilette: How did you fare during the pandemic and how were you able to meet the needs of students?
Michelle Dunnavant: Absolutely. Well, it’s very nice to have virtual in your name, I’ll say that. Especially during that time, it actually worked for us rather than against us. Unlike most of what happened to employment, we fared very well. The nice thing is that our platform had already been utilized in both a classroom setting or virtually. So whether they were virtual or hybrid or in person, you can utilize our platform no matter where you are. And that’s what’s really nice, it’s so versatile and it can be utilized in any scenario, essentially.
Betsy Civilette: How does it work with students of different skill levels? So for example, you have a VR counselor who uses the platform, say with a student with an intellectual disability working toward an applied studies diploma versus a standard or advanced diploma.
Michelle Dunnavant: Like I said, we are incredibly inclusive. We’re also very equitable in our approach. We know that no matter what it is you’re trying to accomplish and your goals, is that work is important for everyone and everything matters in our society. And so, no matter if you’re working with someone in the Pre-ETS program or someone who’s working towards an advanced degree, I like to say our platform meets you where you are. And so if you’re working with a counselor, the way the counselor can differentiate is all of our lessons, even the prebuilt ones that we’ve created, can all be edited. You can change the reading level, you can change it if there’s a word in there that would not make sense or a sentence, or even if there’s an activity you would not want them to do, you can delete that activity. You can change the terminology, you can raise the level or lower the level to wherever you need it to be.
Michelle Dunnavant: So it really is a flexible way for you to approach that as well as to work together. Our platform allows you to watch videos together. You can plan that. You can assign it to them so that you can work on an assignment together, or you can just have a conversation and do things together if that’s needed, or you can allow them to work independently if that’s where they thrive. So that’s the real beauty of our platform, I think.
Betsy Civilette: Right. Well, it sounds like you should add flexible to the name of the company so that’s great. Lastly, do you have a favorite success story of how Virtual Job Shadow has changed the lives of a student, say who’s gone on to a successful career?
Michelle Dunnavant: Absolutely. I mean, that’s why I do what I do. If it wasn’t having an impact, then it’s kind of meaningless then. So there’s quite a few stories, but my favorite one that may be most relatable is we work with another rehab agency and they’re in Georgia and the student had been kind of, unfortunately we have a tendency to put people in boxes or set limitations for them. And so this gentleman, he was in the Pre-ETS program and he said, oh, I like robots, I want to work with robots, I want to do something and build robots. People were like, you might want to look and try to discourage him from going that pathway.
Michelle Dunnavant: But there was a teacher or a counselor who actually took an interest in him, saw beyond what the box was, and they were able to kind of coach him and see that he had a real propensity for math and he had a specialty in that. So it was great and they ended up really nurturing that. And through our platform, they worked with him as well as he saw the job initially there, he was able to explore a little further. They actually used lessons that they had built and he graduated and now works in a robotics company, and they said making more than any of the people who had discouraged him. So I love that.
Betsy Civilette: That is a great story.
Michelle Dunnavant: The reason most of us do what we do here is we’re very mission driven. I like to say we’re fueled by passion but driven by mission. So that’s really important to us and that’s the nice thing about, it’s the first place I’ve ever worked that I’ve loved my job and I’m so excited that you’re partnering with us and I can’t wait to see what we do in the future.
Betsy Civilette: Well, great. And I hope we can create some videos together.
Michelle Dunnavant: Definitely. We’d love that.
Betsy Civilette: So, we’ll have information in our show notes about virtualjobshadow.com. And so thank you so much, Shelly, for joining us today.
Michelle Dunnavant: Thank you so much for having me.
Rick Sizemore: Well, it’s time for our National Clearinghouse Report with the always informative and entertaining Heather Servais. Hello, Heather.
Heather Servais: Rick, thanks for having me. It’s great to be back.
Rick Sizemore: We’ve been talking with a variety of young people about their job shadowing experiences and virtual job shadowing. What do you have in the Clearinghouse for us this month?
Heather Servais: Well, I’ve got three resources to share with you about job shadowing or what we also call work-based learning experiences.
Rick Sizemore: Absolutely.
Heather Servais: The first is the National Technical Assistance Center on Transition: the Collaborative. And this website has so many good resources about work-based learning that I just couldn’t pick one. So the website itself is what I’m going to leave you with because there’s a lot of great information for individuals with disabilities looking to learn more, their families and VR counselors who are hoping to learn more about work-based learning experiences.
Rick Sizemore: You know, Heather, that is so important because people who listen to this show and particularly young people who are now involved in job shadowing and their families, they’re searching for that information and we feel like the Clearinghouse is just a perfect place to point people toward when they’re in that exploration. So kudos to you and the team.
Heather Servais: I have a few others to share. The second is a webinar that was completed by WINTAC and NTACT, which are technical assistant centers that specialize in transition services, and this webinar goes over work-based learning experiences so that counselors who are perhaps new to the field, or would like to learn a little bit more about how work-based learning experiences work, can take it and see for themselves and sharpen their skills. The great thing about this particular training is it is available for about one and a half hours of CRC continuing education credits so if you take the webinar and you like it, complete your evaluation and you should be able to get some CRC credits for that one.
Rick Sizemore: Well, some of our partners that need CRC credit will be excited about that.
Heather Servais: Absolutely. I’ll take the free credits wherever I can get them!
Rick Sizemore: Free is always good.
Heather Servais: Absolutely, love some free CRC credits. The last resource that I want to share with you is actually another podcast and it was created by the University of Maryland and their Center for Transition and Career Innovation and it’s called Be Involved: How to Engage Families and Youth in Planning for Work Experience Opportunities. This podcast is actually done on video so you can watch it, or you can listen to it. It really goes through how professionals that are engaging families and youth can use best practices to engage these families and the individuals with disabilities in the planning process and get them prepared to work.
Rick Sizemore: Heather Servais directs the National Clearinghouse of Rehabilitation Training Materials. Thanks for your report, Heather.
Heather Servais: Thanks Rick.
Rick Sizemore: Here’s Lynn Harris, Director of the Wilson Workforce and Rehabilitation Center Foundation.
Lynn Harris: The foundation is pleased to bring you these exciting stories of how vocational rehabilitation is changing people’s lives. We thank all of our partners in podcasting who made this episode possible. Aladdin Foods Management, fueling students, community and culture. The Council of State Administrators of Vocational Rehabilitation, bringing talent to America’s workforce for 100 years. CVS Health, revolutionizing the consumer health experience. And the Hershey Company, named to CNBC’s list of America’s most just companies. You can find out more about becoming a sponsor at wwrcf.org, or find our contact information in the show notes at vrworkforcestudio.com.
Rick Sizemore: You can always find another exciting episode as we podcast The Sparks that Ignite Vocational Rehabilitation here at the VR Workforce Studio. Until next time, I’m Rick Sizemore.
Steve Sweeney: The VR Workforce Studio podcast is owned and operated by the Wilson Workforce and Rehabilitation Center Foundation. The Foundation publishes and distributes the VR Workforce Studio and manages all sponsor arrangements. Audio content for the podcast is provided to the Wilson Workforce and Rehabilitation Center Foundation by the Virginia Department for Aging and Rehabilitative Services in exchange for promotional considerations.