Jan 17

Promising practices: EPIC program introduces youth to rural employment opportunities

In 2014, a unique partnership formed between the Salina Area Chamber of Commerce, The City After-School Program, and the Kansas Enrichment Network to introduce students to career pathways in Salina, Kans. Career opportunities can seem limited for many students growing up in rural communities but in Salina, many jobs go unfilled.

After the Salina Area Chamber of Commerce conducted a survey of local businesses, it recognized an existing need to fill certain jobs in the community. As part of the Chamber’s long-term goal to support and sustain the workforce in Salina, the Chamber decided to focus on building the skills of Salina-area students. To start, the Chamber partnered with the Kansas Enrichment Network, the State’s afterschool network to support and expand access to out-of-school time learning. From there, Education Practice and Immersion for Credit (EPIC) was created to connect middle school students to career opportunities in Salina, in the hope that they will choose to pursue a career pathway in Salina in the future.

Over the past three years, EPIC has been piloted through The City, an afterschool program located at the local teen center. Using a digital badging system, each unit of EPIC focuses on an industry within Salina identified by the Chamber of Commerce survey as an industry of growth.

“The goal of the badges,” said Eric Brown, former member of the Chamber of Commerce and founder of EPIC, “is to build hope, enthusiasm, and understanding of career exploration: what they [students] like and don’t like, and try to introduce career and college opportunities in junior high.”

In the future, the program’s plan is that students will receive academic or elective credits from the school district for completing each badge.

To complete a badge, students must participate in a series of hands-on activities, online coursework, and a field learning experience that show an understanding of the skills necessary and opportunities available to them in that industry. To complete the television production badge, students visited the local television station where they discussed how to produce a television show, were guided in using the professional television equipment, and created their own videos. For the culinary arts badge, students examined the science of baking, practiced the fundamental skills of measuring ingredients and following a recipe, and participated in a cupcake baking competition. They also visited the local event stadium – the largest employer in Salina with more than 2,000 employees – to discuss working in the food industry, catering for large crowds, quality control, and other careers available within the stadium as a whole.

In Salina, and across the U.S., programs that expose students to college and career pathways broaden students’ perspectives of the possibilities for their futures. In Brown’s eyes, that means that students can “drive by a hospital [and] understand that there are jobs in IT, maintenance, and a whole slew of professions, including being a doctor or a nurse, that they could pursue.” The program shows students that within every business and facility in their community there are people working in jobs that they may have never known about, and that those are opportunities available to them – in Salina and in other rural communities.

With the help of the Kansas Enrichment Network and The City, EPIC hopes to create and distribute a comprehensive guide to implement career exposure programs to students in afterschool programs. The goal is for the guide to first be distributed in other counties of Kansas, with eventual distribution to programs across the U.S.

Check out our new issue brief for more information on The City and EPIC, along with other programs with a focus on building students’ workforce skills!