Connections. Linkages. Bridging the gap between two entities. No matter how you say it, Iowa’s intermediary coordinators are bringing school districts and industries together to build relationships and ensure career success for the future workforce.
Based out of Iowa’s 15 community colleges, intermediaries can help connect students and educators with a variety of work-based learning experiences, such as internships and job shadows, classroom speakers, professional skill trainings, worksite exploratory events and more. Intermediary coordinators are focused on providing students with opportunities for career awareness, career exploration and preparation and hands-on workplace learning. Students use these experiences to help discover what areas they like, build professional and technical skills and solidify their college and career pathways.
“Intermediary coordinators help enable students to openly explore a variety of careers,” said Kristy Volesky, education consultant at the Iowa Department of Education. “We have great careers available in Iowa, and intermediaries can help connect our students to these opportunities.”
As one of Iowa’s intermediaries, Terri Hungerford from Iowa Valley Community College – along with fellow coordinator Jessica Lara – assists 14 area schools with their career exploration opportunities. Intermediaries use their connections and dedicated time to match educational needs with industry partner interests. It’s a big job, and Hungerford fully understands how important the intermediary role is for both students looking to explore different career paths and for businesses needing to build up their talent pipeline.
“We are the connector for our educators and students to our business partners and vice versa,” she said. “We know who to reach out to make arrangements for quality job shadows or guest speakers for our students. On the other side, we also hear from businesses on what qualities they are looking for in future employees and how they can support us. It’s a win-win.”
One successful partnership, brokered by Hungerford, has been with Alliant Energy. Hungerford has worked to place students at the Alliant Energy Training Center to learn more about the company, their available trainings and potential career opportunities. In 2021, this relationship expanded with Alliant providing an Intro to Energy Basics pilot program for high school juniors and seniors located in their Marshalltown and Burlington zones. Completion of this weekly, two-hour class potentially led to summer internship opportunities at Alliant, and during the pilot year, five students in the Marshalltown zone were awarded internships. Of those five, three were seniors and went on to continue their studies in an energy program at Marshalltown Community College (MCC). Alliant Energy has now expanded the Intro to Energy Basics program statewide.
“This has been a great initiative,” Hungerford said. “It’s a way for our students to get experience with a quality employer, and it’s a way for Alliant to find new talent.”
To help make these successful work-based connections between businesses and students, intermediaries often must be creative problem-solvers. And for high school senior Addison Dobson, 17, Hungerford had to think outside of the box to assist her on her career exploration.
“Due to HIPAA and now COVID, it’s hard to get into a job shadow in health care,” Addison said. “Terri helped figure out how I could experience this field without a typical job shadow. I was able to do a social work zoom link to help me get more experience.”
Addison says she has met several times with Hungerford, either individually or in a group setting. Hungerford has been an additional support to Addison’s school counselor in helping her find her career interests.
“She (Hungerford) is the main reason I am getting an Associate of Arts (AA) degree at MCC this spring,” Addison said. “She answered questions about MCC and explained deadlines for applications. She is kind of a mother figure for me.”
Starting her sophomore year in high school, Addison has been able to attend MCC for her AA degree in general studies with almost no tuition costs. After she graduates from both East Marshall High School and MCC this year, she plans to attend Iowa State University in the fall and dual enroll in human development and family services and a sports-related major. Addison’s career goal is to work in child advocacy or social work, and she knows that the information she has received from Hungerford will assist her along the way.
“Terri is wonderful to work with,” she said. “I learned so much about how to get ready for a job, taking the first steps to get your foot in the door at a college or with an employer and how to apply for scholarships.”
Intermediary coordinators, like Hungerford, belong to the Iowa Intermediary Network, which allows them to network and share best practices. The Iowa Intermediary Network also provides online resources and live event opportunities for educators to use for free. In the fall of 2021, 3,386 students across the state attended the network’s events.
“I think the Iowa Intermediary Network is such a wonderful community,” Hungerford said. “We all want the best for our students, and we can collaborate to share ideas for work-based learning. Since we have a common goal, we have a great camaraderie with each other.”
Work-based learning for career exploration is vital for today’s students and tomorrow’s workforce. And Hungerford and other intermediaries in Iowa continue onward, making connections for businesses and students.
“We are the relationship connection,” she said. “We pride ourselves in that.”