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Business leaders backing new 'career coach' position

A new campaign is underway to finance a community career collaboration coordinator (CCCC).

This person would establish partnerships between businesses, instructors and schools so students may pursue their career interests.

Park Rapids Superintendent Lance Bagstad and High School Principal Jeff Johnson pitched the idea Tuesday to a Leadership Council comprising city, county, community and business leaders.

Experiential learning opportunities — job shadowing, apprenticeships, internships, field trips, mentorships, expert presenters — are the latest education trend, Johnson said. He and Bagstad recently toured Perham and Alexandria schools where similar programs are underway.

"We're looking for partnerships to build on this and move forward," Bagstad said.

Northwood Bank CEO Mark Hewitt voiced his support. He said he advocated for work-based learning almost a decade ago, but the school district was focused on testing.

Bagstad agreed that federal legislation, like No Child Left Behind, emphasized standardized test results. That has been replaced by the Every Student Succeeds Act, which requires schools to prepare students for college and careers.

"The pendulum has swung," Bagstad said.

In addition, college is expensive and not every student needs to attend a four-year university, Johnson said. Two-year tech colleges lead to well-paying trades as well.

Johnson has already been approached by a local heating and plumbing business willing to pay for a senior's vocational training if he or she committed to working at the company.

"That opens the door and brings that person back to work here," Johnson said.

A private college in Minnesota has a sticker price of $50,000 per year, noted Marty Giese, a pastor and professor.

"Parents are voting with their checkbooks, and they're saying, 'There's got to be a different way,'" Giese said. "We're discovering some ancient educational paradigms here. Apprenticeship, mentorship — that's been around for millenia, and we're rediscovering it. I think that's exciting. I think this is a win in every direction you point it."

In order for experiential learning to be a successful experience for students, "top leadership in business has to commit to be involved," Hewitt said.

Park Rapids School District proposes hiring a CCCC to work three days per week at $19,000 to $27,000 annually. The position is not currently included in the district's budget.

The Hubbard County Regional Economic Development Commission (HCREDC) will assist with matching potential speakers with classrooms.

Park Rapids City Administrator John McKinney suggested making the CCCC a full-time job by cooperating with the Nevis School.

The number-one challenge facing businesses is finding good people to hire, Hewitt said, urging the business community to step up to develop its own workforce.

Kathy Jorgenson with Arvig agreed.

"It's needed. There's no doubt about it. It's a huge problem in the town," she said. Last year, Arvig wanted to hire 200 construction workers, but only found 80.

The Leadership Council put out a challenge to raise $13,500 and match dollar-for-dollar what was raised, for a total of $27,000. They are seeking three-year commitments, explained HCREDC Executive Director David Collins.

If the position moves to full-time, Collins said he hoped the campaign goal could be increased.

Contributions to the CCCC campaign drive are tax-deductible. Checks can be made out to the Park Rapids School District and mailed to the HCREDC.

RDO and CHI St. Joseph's Health have pledged money to the cause.

"Park Rapids has a lot to offer. We need to ensure our kids know there's a future here," Bagstad said.

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