EMSI CASE STUDY (see the full archive)
Education and workforce leaders in Omaha have a history of working together to ensure the region continues to thrive. One of their latest partnerships involves the widespread use of EMSI’s web-based career tool throughout Nebraska’s largest metro.
Giving Students a Direction
Wayne Brown and his colleagues at the Avenue Scholars Foundation have worked with enough distressed students to be sure of one thing. When students have a clear career goal in mind – a future that hinges on getting an education – their performance in the classroom improves.
“We are seeing that day after day after day with our students,” said Brown, Chief Career Officer at Avenue Scholars.
Take Efrain Pinto, one of more than 500 students in Omaha that the Avenue Scholars Foundation has provided what it refers to as intrusive support to through high school, college, and into their careers. Pinto (pictured at right) was a special education student when he was accepted into the Avenue Scholars program. He was told he couldn’t go to college. His career options looked bleak.
But then Brown and an Avenue Scholars advisor introduced Pinto to Career Coach, an online tool designed by EMSI and implemented last year by Avenue Scholars Foundation to provide career information to its students.
Career Coach helped Pinto find a direction.
“We put him on Career Coach because he was struggling,” Brown explained. “He was undeclared for about a year and a half at the college level. So he was able to compare his passion with what he’s good at. He was passionate about nursing, but he was a little reticent about doing that because he associated nursing as a female profession.
“Through Career Coach,” Brown added, “we were able to go through the research of the salary and the training and look at where job opportunities are in Omaha. He went for it, and it was after that he was able to pass his math class after the fifth attempt.
“It wasn’t that he couldn’t do it; he just couldn’t figure out a reason why.”
Pinto has since received his pharmacy tech license, and he expects to complete his nursing training in May 2013. He’s one of many rousing Avenue Scholars success stories.
As of 2011, 99% of students who go through the Avenue Scholars program graduate high school, and 88% enroll in college. Of those students, 92% remain in school after their first year (compared to 38% of all high school grads in the Omaha area). The program, completely funded by philanthropists, is doing wonders in the Omaha area. And Career Coach has been critical to the students’ success in planning out their careers.
“The majority our students score high on the [Gallup]-HOPE Index, so they’re like sailboats — you give them purpose, direction, and they sail. They fly. And the results are showing up,” noted Brown (pictured at left).
“Now Career Coach has become that direction. It’s their personal GPS. It’s how they figure out where they’re going to go with their life. It’s how they figure out what they’re going to major in college. It’s how they figure out and negotiate that world of work and what they should be specializing in. We use it as a highly structured tool. It’s been very important to us.”
Avenue Scholars isn’t the only organization in Omaha using Career Coach. It has partnered with major educational institutions and workforce groups in Omaha to ensure thousands of students and jobseekers have access to the tool.
The Back Story
The University of Nebraska-Omaha (UNO) and Metro Community College have a track record of providing a seamless education path for Omaha students who start at the two-year level and move on to get a bachelor’s degree. So when Linda Mannering, the former Director of Institutional Research at UNO, introduced leaders at MCC to the tool, both schools saw Career Coach as a natural way to extend their partnership and market their educational programs side-by-side in one tool.
Leaders from the Greater Omaha Chamber of Commerce and Heartland Workforce Solutions, the regional workforce board, also worked with MCC and UNO to bring a unified workforce development approach to Omaha. In the past, Mannering said, agencies were duplicating efforts. The goal was to design a “one-stop career shop approach.”
Career Coach is [students'] personal GPS. It’s how they figure out where they’re going to go with their life. It’s how they figure out what they’re going to major in college. We use it as a highly structured tool. It’s been very important to us.” — Wayne Brown, Chief Career Officer, Avenue Scholars Foundation
Career Coach fit perfectly with the new strategy.
UNO was “asked to come up with something that would allow us to be a part of this one-stop shop career development center, and Career Coach is the answer to our needs,” Mannering said.
The simple public-facing web tool presents local information on careers that students – or anyone else – might be thinking of pursuing. Once students punch in a job or major, Career Coach shows:
- The recent performance and outlook of the relevant occupations within a 50-mile radius of the region;
- Average wages that students can expect to make if they started in that field (and as they progress through it);
- The number of estimated job openings in the area specific to their search;
- Up-to-date job postings from local employers that fit their search;
- The needed training or a degree to get a job in that field, and the local programs to help students get there.
“We believe that Career Coach will democratize this kind of information and allow students, parents, and adult workers to make informed decisions about their futures,” Mannering said.
Key Information, All in One Place
Before having Career Coach at his disposal, Wayne Brown remembers the time-consuming process he used to go through to help students make career choices. He would bounce around between six websites for data on jobs and their outlook over the next five to 10 years. And the statistics and information on those sites were often not focused on the Omaha area.
More than a year ago, Mannering set up a breakfast meeting with Brown and Ken Bird, President/CEO of Avenue Scholars Foundation. “I’ve got something special for you,” Mannering told them. “Let me show you Career Coach.”
“As she was going through it I was like, ‘I have to go to six sites – six different websites – to get this information,’” Brown recalled. “It’s right here, it’s easy, it’s quick. I was like, ‘Ken, we’re doing it.’ So we were in.”
Omaha has a [4.7%] unemployment rate. We have this African-American and greater Omaha city population with a skills gap. How do you put those two things together? That’s what Career Coach helps us do.” — Wayne Brown, Avenue Scholars
Since that day, Avenue Scholars has adopted Career Coach to better (and more efficiently) serve its students. Meanwhile, Heartland Workforce Solutions uses the tool directly with jobseekers, and UNO’s Center for Economic Education – whose mission is to improve economic literacy – uses Career Coach as an educational tool for K-12 students. “They’ll look at the salary and wage information, they’ll compare jobs, they’ll look at the opening information,” Mannering said. “And children will be talking in their classrooms about economics and Career Coach and jobs.”
In Brown’s mind, the buy-in from local groups to make Career Coach “the center point for our students” has been fantastic. Although Omaha’s economy is booming, Brown noted that it has one of the poorest and least-educated African-American communities in the United States. Even the success stories, the poor students who graduate high school and enter college, often drop out, he said.
The founders of the Avenue Scholars Foundation (see more in the video below) saw this issue, and set up the organization to help provide a long-term solution for students in poverty or who are on the cusp of dropping out. Finding these students solid jobs is the ultimate goal, which is why Career Coach has proven so useful.
“We’re in this for the long haul,” Brown said. “We’re in this for the jobs. We’re in this to move students from poverty to the middle class. That’s what keeps me up at nighttime. Omaha has a [4.7%] unemployment rate. We have this African-American and greater Omaha city population with a skills gap. How do you put those two things together? That’s what Career Coach helps us do.”
Economic Modeling Specialists Inc. (EMSI) is a professional services firm that offers integrated regional data, web-based analysis tools, data-driven reports, and custom consulting services. EMSI has served thousands of workforce, education, economic development, and other policy professionals in the U.S., Canada, and the United Kingdom, and the company’s web-based Analyst and Career Coach tools are used by over 3,000 professionals across the U.S. For more information, call (866) 999-3674.