Fort Dodge students find success in career plans
FORT DODGE – Where are you headed? On the surface, this question seems simple, but for students who are starting to think about their future careers and life after high school, it can become overwhelming. That’s why innovation in individual career and academic plans (ICAP) has become vital.
Each year, all Iowa students enrolled in eighth through 12th grades complete an ICAP with a school counselor. An ICAP is a plan that helps appraise a student’s skill aptitude and interests and shows what career and college paths may align with them. The information helps guide each student on what next steps are needed to reach their desired goals. Since its redesign in 2016, ICAPs are also more inclusive of career and technical education (CTE) programs and incorporate high-quality, work-based learning experiences in order to engage students, provide hands-on learning and strengthen employability skills.
“ICAP provides an opportunity for students to learn and explore careers prior to entering into the workforce or post-secondary education,” said Katy Blatnick-Gagne, education consultant at the Iowa Department of Education. “It provides them with a path and helps build confidence and workforce readiness.”
At Fort Dodge Community School District, ICAP is definitely more than just an annual meeting; it’s an enriched experience. Students are able to take a variety of assessments, aptitude tests and interest inventories to provide them with more information about themselves and to help match them with potential careers.
“Aptitude tests can help point out some careers that students may not think of or know about, and it can break down gender and other stereotypes,” said Trista Wuebker, school counselor at Fort Dodge Senior High. “From our feedback, the majority of students have found this helpful and share the results with their parents.”
Along with these valuable assessments, students are also able to participate in many work-based opportunities to learn more about potential careers prior to graduation.
“Work-based learning is a big part of a student’s overall career and academic planning,” Wuebker said. “We’ve been able to work with the Iowa Central Community College intermediary on many events that help expose a student to different career-building opportunities.”
Centered around Iowa’s community colleges, intermediaries help connect schools and their students to the local business industry through work-based learning experiences. Megan Kruse, the intermediary at Iowa Central, has partnered with Fort Dodge to help provide many of their work-based learning opportunities for students, such as job shadowing, internships, career discovery days, business tours, mock interviews and guest speakers.
“These experiences are very helpful for students to become aware of what’s out there,” Kruse said. “They often have no idea what’s available, and it’s important to get them exposed and connected to businesses. Job shadows and internships can lead to future jobs.”
One popular event offered through the partnership between Fort Dodge Senior High and Iowa Central Community College allows students to visit the college campus and meet with instructors who teach classes needed for their particular career path. Students are able to make connections with faculty and ask questions about the specific field of study, which is helpful to gauge if a career and academic path is right for them.
For 2020 Fort Dodge Senior High graduate Ariana Schultz, making connections to colleges and businesses through ICAP events was helpful.
“I remember at the beginning of every school year we would host a career fair,” Schultz said. “I enjoyed it because it gave you a look at how many options you really do have. You don’t have to choose a big four-year school, we have smaller options as well.”
ICAP and its work-based learning events not only allowed Schultz to see the different options available after graduation, but it helped keep her engaged in her studies and on track with her goals.
“I really enjoyed having ICAP to review every year,” Schultz said. “With how busy school and daily life can get, it was nice to have something that was organized and easy to go back to. It gives you a sense of direction, like you won’t be completely lost after high school.”
For Fort Dodge’s students like Schultz, ICAP provides safe exploration of potential careers before graduation, and having a career path prior to the end of high school can help save money and time afterwards. Students will have more knowledge of what additional courses or training they may need – or won’t need – to reach their job goals and, therefore, can maximize their budgets for tuition and timelines for completion.
ICAPs coupled with CTE programs also expose students to careers that are in high-demand in the job market. Local businesses can benefit from ICAPs, too, by making important linkages with this future workforce and becoming a part of their overall skill development.
“The more we can connect them to local businesses, the better,” Wuebker said. “Employers can see what skills students need. They have a good perspective on what things we can help them prepare for.”
Although ICAPs are a requirement for eighth grade through high school, the concept can be applied at any time for anyone looking to plot out their career goals and acquire new skills.
“Think of ICAP as a verb,” Blatnick-Gagne said. “We continue to ICAP throughout our lives. It doesn’t just stop after high school as most of us will continue to pursue different jobs and careers. We continue to find what we’re good at and what pathways are needed to get there.”