More than 16,000 students in 20 technology center districts across Oklahoma are learning more about nontraditional careers through a new Oklahoma CareerTech initiative.
The Oklahoma Department of Career and Technology Education launched the VirtualJobShadow.com initiative as a way to encourage more students to investigate nontraditional careers. A nontraditional career is one in which less than 25% of the labor force is of one gender.
VirtualJobShadow.com is an online, video-based exploration and career planning platform designed to help students and job seekers learn more about themselves, career pathways and skills needed for independent living. It features videos showing a day in the life of men and women at employer work sites.
“This new platform empowers students to learn more about careers that suit their interests,” said Marcie Mack, Oklahoma CareerTech state director. “Through hundreds of professionally produced videos, our goal is to boost student awareness, interest and eventual employment in nontraditional careers.”
The platform turned out to be ideal for schools during the COVID-19 pandemic because it is video-based, said Steven Aragon, equity/diversity professional development specialist at ODCTE. In addition to workplaces, the videos show students in classrooms learning the skills they will need for various careers.
“There’s one with a female auto mechanics instructor teaching female students how to balance tires,” Aragon said. “We know in education – and other areas, for that matter – we need to see people who look like us. It’s one of the biggest ways to get students excited and thinking about possibilities they’ve never thought about – seeing people who look like them doing things.”
ODCTE sent recruitment letters to technology center and Pre-K-12 school districts last summer with the hope of reaching 15,000 students in Oklahoma. Districts submitted proposals, and those approved began using VirtualJobShadow.com in September, Aragon said. To date, about 20 districts use the pilot program, with more than 16,400 student users. Tulsa Public Schools has more than 14,000 student users alone, Aragon said.
High Plains Technology Center in Woodward uses VirtualJobShadow.com in its Technical Applications Program to introduce elementary and middle school students to career and technology education.
“The students are exploring careers and being exposed to things they didn’t know. It is opening their eyes to the endless career options available,” said Danna Goss, HPTC middle school TAP instructor.
VirtualJobShadow.com also includes a curriculum and tools to help instructors create lessons for their students, along with reporting tools that can help instructors, administrators and parents track students’ progress and career interests.
Assessment of the initiative, which uses money from the Strengthening Career and Technical Education for the 21st Century Act, will begin in the spring, Aragon said, with data collection starting in March. ODCTE will make a decision about continuing the program based on the data, he explained.
“If it is doing what we want it to do and making a difference, we’ll keep doing it,” he said.