The Fox Journal

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WCCN teaches professionals about higher learning

By Avery Leith

Greg Darnieder speaks at the Wisconsin College and Career Network Conference in Perry Hall March 21.

photo by Avery Leith
Greg Darnieder speaks at the Wisconsin College
and Career Network Conference in Perry Hall March 21.

UW-Fox Valley hosted the Wisconsin College and Career Network (WCCN) conference March 21.

Along with Fox, the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction, ACT and TRiO sponsored the free event.

Nearly 200 educators, counselors, administrators, social workers and representatives from nonprofit organizations around the Fox Valley attended.

TRiO is a program funded by the Department of Education dedicated to encouraging low-income or disadvantaged students to pursue higher education and prepare for a career in today's economy.

"The goal of the conference is reach people that work with this population of students, and encourage them to go to college," Tammie DeVooght Blaney, program director for TRiO, said.

"These kids aren't not going to college because they're not smart or have the potential, they're not going to college because of their background and they don't understand the possibilities. No one's telling them," Blaney said.

Speakers at the conference discussed the importance of higher education in today's economy and job market, and in the future.

Greg Darneider, senior advisor to the secretary on the College Access Initiative of the U.S. Department of Education, was one of the keynote speakers.

“Education truly drives our economy,” Darneider said.

“Our society needs 8.2 million additional graduates by the year 2020. That's the challenge the President has put before us. The reality is that there are three million jobs available in this country today if people have the right certificates and degrees.”

Darneider also talked about the importance of the Free Application for Student Aid (FAFSA) and basic financial skills for high school students facing the prospect of accumulating college debt.

“Overall we don’t do a very good job in this country around basic financial literacy,” Darneider said.

To him, a major factor is helping high school counselors understand the process themselves so their students can be well informed when it comes to pursuing college.

“That’s really a question around how do you build the right system within our high schools and how do we help the professionals who do this work be informed to the highest degree possible so they can do that advisement intelligently,” Darneider said.

When it comes to students who are already in college, or still trying to figure out which path of higher education is right for them, Darneider says the focus needs to be on finding one’s passion.

“In many ways I think it gets back around to this question of how do we help people find their passions? How do we help you understand what you really enjoy doing,” Darneider said.

Beyond that, Darneider discussed how the economy is changing in a way that creates a demand for different types of jobs than there were needed in the past.

“If you get laid off from a job today, the chance of you being rehired into that job anywhere, not just the company you got laid off from, 55 percent of those jobs have disappeared, it doesn’t exist anymore... it gets into these conversations then around what kind of skills do people need given this changing dynamic of the world at work,” Darneider said.

The conference also included a number of presentations covering topics like the generational differences in today’s workforce, the role of social media, financial aid programs, the need for an educated workforce and developing college and career ready students.

The event ended with a business panel of human resource representatives from around the Fox Valley to discuss current trends in hiring talent who have recently graduated from college. They offered tips for younger professionals entering the workforce.

“We look for anybody with the education and that internship, that internship is so important. I would say anything with a little bit of experience in that field is going to help them stand out over someone who has the education, but has not had the internship to go along,” Toni Charbonneau, staffing specialist for ABR Employment Services, said.

“I would also say if there are different student organizations that you can get involved in, I would highly recommend or encourage students to do that…just some things that can help differentiate your resume and help you stand out,” Jessica Stini, recruiter for Miller Electric, said.

The panel also spoke about specific qualities they look for when recruiting and interviewing new hires.

“I would say communication skills and organizational skills, for any position. They have to be able to talk with management, they have to be able to talk with their team, relay information. Communication is big,” Leslie Bohlman, talent acquisition specialist for J.J. Keller & Associates, said.

“How coworkers treat each other and how they treat our patients is really, really important to us and communication, the ability to have a direct conversation with a coworker to work through conflict is really important as well,” Gwen Baumel, vice president of human resources for Aurora Health Care, said.

WCCN was organized in 2011 to help educators, college access personnel, business staff and community leaders statewide identify barriers that prevent students from pursuing a college education, and to help students prepare for a successful career.

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