White Bear Lake, Minnesota — Jenny Moore is on a mission. Her goal? Filling a critical gap in construction career exposure and guidance for Minnesota high school students.
As the Career Pathways Coordinator at White Bear Lake High School, Moore runs the high school’s Career Pathways program, an initiative that helps students explore a variety of careers while attending high school. In addition to the construction pathway, the school offers pathway programs in education, business, information technology, and more.
“I want every student to feel like they have the means to live a productive life outside of high school and early career exposure is an important part of that,” said Moore. “My job as the Career Pathways Coordinator is to strategically work with students on exploring their post-graduation options, help them make an informed decision about a career choice, and construct a career pathway based on that choice.”
Students who feel called to pursue a particular career pathway can officially register for a specific pathway as early as 10th grade. Students registered in the construction career pathway gain access to courses such as:
In addition to specialized coursework, registered students gain access to a multitude of off-campus and experiential learning opportunities. Benefits available to registered students include alumni support, career coaching, field trips, driver’s education, apprenticeship application sessions, and more.
“One important component to this work is ensuring that students have agency when they create their educational experience,” said Moore. “This programming is not required, and every student has a different level of participation in the program. Some students choose to take career pathway courses, some can weave in and out and try things as they see fit.”
As of March 2022, 106 students were registered construction career pathway students at White Bear Lake High School. The school has even more students who participate in construction career pathway courses, and who attend Construct Tomorrow and Learn2Build events, hands-on construction career exploration events for K-12 students.
These opportunities are supported by the Construction Careers Foundation, a Twin Cities-based 501(c)(3) nonprofit who seeks to increase the diversity of entrants into the construction trades and to enhance young people’s access to construction-related employment opportunities.
“Students find purpose in work – a lot of students need to work. This program connects their lives in the classroom to their lives outside of it,” said Moore. “For that reason and many more, I am so thankful that we can offer this program to our students, and I feel very privileged to be able to hold this position as Career Pathways Coordinator.”
Addressing Community Needs Through Educational Support
Moore’s passion for career readiness through education began during her six years as an elementary school teacher in rural Montana. In that role, Moore was the only fourth-grade teacher for the entire town.
“In that district, I worked with families that lived in extreme poverty, and started to see that when families are generally supported, their students do better,” said Moore.
This sparked Moore’s transition into a role with the University of Montana-Bitterroot College, where she created workforce training programs for undereducated or underemployed people.
“I found that when you empower and support young families and single moms, the whole community grows stronger, not just those families,” said Moore.
When the educator moved back to the Twin Cities area and saw a job posting for a Career Pathways Coordinator, she was enamored by the job’s marriage between education, workforce training, and what she describes as helping people find their “why.”
“I believe in education so wholeheartedly,” said Moore. “Finding that purpose and connecting that to what you are learning in the classroom, challenging and having that paradigm shift, thinking about how we can do better and work together to shape the future, have been my babies since the beginning of my career.”
Closing the Opportunity Gap
In her work at White Bear Lake Area High School, Moore recognizes that each student will have their own unique trajectory into adulthood and the beginning of their career. By acknowledging that each student comes from a different background, and therefore will require different modes of support, the educator is better able to guide and empower students to choose the path that is right for them.
“When you say, ‘college and career ready’— that has to mean ‘college and career ready’ for all students,” said Moore. “It’s about closing the opportunity gap, and not assuming that students automatically have access to every opportunity. Recognizing that, we intentionally create opportunities by engaging students of varying gender identities, students of color, and students who receive special education services, and connect them with opportunities that will be best suited for them to thrive.”
Moore works in tandem with equity educational specialists, the Black Excellence Club, and other groups at the school to be proactive about representation in these spaces, though she understands that simply reaching out to students is not all it takes to build an inclusive community.
“We try to be incredibly intentional about engagement, without making students of color feel like we are reaching out to them simply because they are students of color,” said Moore. “It can be really scary when you are the only person who looks like you on a construction site, and we want to acknowledge that. Engagement is about providing students with role models who look like they do, and creating a safe space for all students to learn and to be vulnerable, so they can feel supported and confident pursuing their career goals.”
The program hosts strategic events where diverse students can connect with leaders in their industry who are representative of the student population. For International Women’s Month in March 2022, Moore and other career programming staff partnered with McGough Construction to host a Women in the Skilled Trades Lunch. More than 10 students who identify as women attended the event and met with women leaders in architecture, engineering, and construction.
“For these events, we recruit mentors from underrepresented populations, so students feel as though they can have an intimate conversation with their mentors and really see themselves in the industry,” said Moore. “This gives them the space to learn, make mistakes and ask questions they might not feel like they can ask otherwise.”
Bringing Equity to the Construction Industry from the Inside-Out
An equally important component of this endeavor is collaborating with industry leaders to make the industry more accommodating for all students, not the other way around.
“We strive to help leaders in the construction industry see that, when it comes to hiring, it’s about being a cultural contributor, not a cultural fit,” noted Moore. “We are motivating construction companies by pointing out, for example, that having a student walk in the door and apply in person is not a great hiring strategy because some students might not have a driver’s license, and many students’ first language is not English. So far, the industry has responded positively, and we are beginning to see that shift occur.”
This idea is particularly relevant in the context of Minnesota’s dire need for construction labor due to skilled journey workers retiring and leaving the industry. For that reason, the scope of the program goes beyond that of student achievement and extends to the very communities in which students live and learn.
“This program is not just about helping students, it’s about creating educational opportunities based around a community mindset,” said Moore. “By addressing the workforce shortages in the state, we are not only helping students, but also their families, their communities, and the success of industries at large.”
Fostering Understanding Between Students and Parents
Due to social stigmas, and a general lack of awareness surrounding alternative career pathways to college, Moore notes that many students need extra support in communicating the value of a union construction apprenticeship to their family members.
“Many students have parents who view a four-year college degree as a kind of gold star. In that situation, it’s about reinforcing the concept that the apprenticeship pathway is a secondary education pathway, not unlike college,” said Moore. “My job is to help students and parents see each other where they are both at and introduce both parties to every option available so they can make an informed decision about the student’s career choice.”
White Bear Lake Area High School’s District, Independent School District 624, offers and hosts annual Parent Registration Nights. At these events, all staff members are available to talk with parents through career programming at a systemic level.
“I have yet to experience a negative response to the conversation,” said Moore. “Once we discuss what the job outlook looks like for students, and I explain that students will still be going to school, that it just looks different, parents have that sigh of relief. They get to have that connection with their child and be able to say, ‘I get it now, now I can support you how I want to support you, and now I see that this is an extremely valuable career path.’”
Finding a Community of Educators
Though not many educators have access to the kind of career programming at their school, there are plenty of vehicles to foster equitable career readiness work at any institution. For educators who wish to implement this kind of work into their own classrooms, but don’t have access to already-existing programming and connections, Moore offers this advice:
“If an educator wants to get involved in work like this, the community can and will back you up and find a way to get you involved. You aren’t alone,” said Moore. “Communities and employers – they see the point. They understand that this work is for the betterment of the entire community, so they are going to support you. I encourage educators to get out there and to network because everyone can help make a difference.”
Access Valuable Resources at ConstructionCareers.org
“The institutional support that the Construction Careers Foundation provides is imperative and integral to the success of our program. We simply could not do what we do without programs such as the Minnesota Trades Academy and Learn2Build,” said Moore. “I was just in a career investigations class, and I had the Construction Career Foundation’s website pulled up. The work this organization does allows educators to maintain a focus on building relationships with students. So, I’d like to express gratitude and thanks for what they have done for our program, and students and families in the district in any way that I can.”
Gain access to resources specifically designed for educators at the Construction Career Foundation’s For Teachers Page.