Take a look for yourself: Students get out of classroom for Job Shadow Day

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When pursuing her perfect idea of a Job Shadow Day experience, Michelle Desiata, a senior at Lee Middle and High School, learned firsthand how persistence can pay off.

She had her sights set on spending a day at Iredale Mineral Cosmetics in Great Barrington, so her first step was to research the company. Once on its website, she accessed a company directory and began making calls — lots of calls — to almost every department. Over the course of a week and a half, she persisted, until she finally got transferred to the assistant of Jane Iredale, the company's owner. That led her to connecting with Jamie Roberts, senior business services manager for the company.

Roberts said that she and her team were thrilled to hear from such a passionate young woman who was interested in learning more about the company and entrepreneurship.

Desiata said she was thrilled to have the opportunity available to her in her own backyard.

"It's truly up to us to take advantage of it," the student said.

Desiata said that people her age need to not be afraid to advocate for themselves. "If you have to call 10 times, call 10 times. I did have to do the work, but it was really well worth it," she said.

On Friday, Desiata was one of 157 Berkshire County public high school students to participate in Job Shadow Day. Collectively these students visited 124 workplaces. In addition to Iredale Cosmetics, students explored a range of companies like Wheeler & Taylor Insurance Inc. and the Great Barrington Police Department, the Pittsfield Fire Department, Berkshire Medical Center, a veterinary practice, and even right here at The Berkshire Eagle, among others.

Heather Shogry-Williams, youth director for Berkshire County Regional Employment Board Inc., said that these days, Job Shadow Day is not just limited to Feb. 2, Groundhog Day, but also expands into the spring.

Last year, for example, a total of 258 students shadowed employees at 104 agencies, between February and April.

"At the rate we're going, it looks like more students are going to participate this year," Shogry-Williams said.

On Friday, six schools participated in Job Shadow Day, including Lenox Memorial Middle and High School, Lee Middle and High School, Wahconah Regional High School, Drury High School, Hoosac Valley High School and Mount Everett Regional School.

Shogry-Williams attributes participation to career readiness models used in the county's public high schools and their designated career readiness liaisons. It is the job of the liaisons to create job training, career exploration and internship opportunities within their school, with support from a state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education grant managed with the Berkshire County Regional Employment Board.

Participants believe Job Shadow Day is not only beneficial to students but also employers.

For Desiata, who participated in her second annual Job Shadow Day experience, the program helped her find a career focus.

She said that last year, she didn't know what she was interested in, and ended up shadowing staff at Toole Insurance Agency in Lee. She said that experience helped her realize her desire to become an entrepreneur and to learn more about international business. Which is why this year, she focused on making plans to visit Iredale.

Of her day spent with the international cosmetics company, Desiata said, that it helped her to see "outside the doors" of her school and home life. "It really made me realize what I'm really interested in, and realize what my passion is," she said.

One of her Shadow Day supervisors, Jamie Roberts, senior business services manager for Iredale, said opening the doors to Desiata was a chance for her and her colleagues to educate a young person about the company's vision and mission. Desiata spent the day visiting different departments and talking with employees one-on-one to learn more about their roles. The student said that she could relate to the cosmetics company's vision to use natural products to promote good skin care and enhance a person's natural beauty.

Roberts said she thinks the concept of Job Shadow Day is "fantastic," particularly when the students involved can demonstrate a dedicated interest in the field. "Anyone who shows genuine interest and is proactive about contacting us, I would have no problem taking anyone on to come in and shadow," she said.

Berkshire County Regional Employment Board's Heather Shogry-Williams said it's never too early to start career exploration, but that it may be too late if a student doesn't have at least one job experience until after high school.

"Right now, there's such a priority on college readiness, but there needs to be a focus on career readiness," she said.

The youth director believes that there are a lot of opportunities for local students, but that many of them go underutilized, such as use of the BerkshireWorks youth services program.

"It's a dream for me that every single student in Berkshire County would all have to do an internship," said Shogry-Williams. She said schools also have to figure out the best way to help students make that happen, whether it's releasing them for part of the school day, or helping students find opportunities on the weekends.

The youth director said that's why it's important for families, businesses and the community at-large to get involved, too.

"Back in the '60s, what was the plan for most people? Either people would go to college or GE. That's how it was in the region, but now that landscape has totally changed," Shogry-Williams said.

Now, she said, there are shortages in the health care field, and she said advanced manufacturing jobs also need a pipeline of workers to fill jobs.

"On a communitywide level, here in the county, there's a severe population decline. Young people are leaving in droves," she said. "But in career readiness, you can show them just how much is available for them in the region, so that they can come back and have a viable career. Employers are starving for workers."

Editor's note: The authors of this story are all Berkshire County high school sophomores who completed this story as a Job Shadow Day assignment with The Eagle.


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