Inspire Sheboygan County aims to connect employers, schools

by Jeff Pederson of The Review staff

If education is the key to a bright future, forming a connection with a potential employer is the vital link required to open the door to a rewarding career.

With a strong background in both business and education, Peter Geise is ready to help area employers and students form that all-important connection.

To serve that purpose, Geise recently started Inspire Sheboygan County, a non-profit organization geared to connecting students with employers in their chosen career field and employers to their future workforce.

Inspire Sheboygan County formed out of Geise’s participation in the Sheboygan County Chamber of Commerce Business Education Partnership (BEP).

“I joined the chamber’s BEP in August of 2012 and shortly after we started working on ways to facilitate communication between K-12 schools and employers,” Geise said. “There has been a lot of discussion about the skills gap in the workforce and we set out to figure out why that is and what we can do to cut that gap.

“Each fall high school students set up academic career plans with their school counselors,” he said. “Often times the counselors contact employers and set up tours and job shadowing, but that is where it seems to stop. If a student has interest in a particular career, the connection with a particular employer should continue on and grow over an extended period of time. The bottom line is the dialogue between students and employers should be ongoing.”

After a year of planning and development, Geise launched Inspire Sheboygan County on Aug. 1.

Referring to it as a structure rather than a program, Geise has set up Inspire Sheboygan County as a web-based database designed specifically to connect students and employers with opportunities.

“The basis of this connection is through webbased software, which integrates employer career and job profiles with student academic and career plans,” Geise said. “Through this network, employers and students are able to get in touch with each other and stay connected for as long as they wish through various software-facilitated message and discussion boards.”

Participating employers are asked to designate a career coach, who communicates with students interested in a particular career field.

Students in Inspire Sheboygan County member schools work with their school counselors to search for specific career areas and job openings with participating employers.

“When you ask a student what career areas they are interested in, they will give you an answer that is typically based on very limited knowledge of what that career entails,” Geise said. “They certainly don’t have a long-term plan for what they need to do to get a job in that career field.

“Through Inspire, students can get an idea of what a job involves and what kind of educational track they need to pursue to land that kind of job,” he said. “They are able to get this information straight from someone that is working in their field of interest.”

Geise said one of the main keys to Inspire for Sheboygan County is forming connections at the very top of each participating business, organization and school district.

“The problem with some career connection programs is that students get matched with certain employees within a company or organization and when that employee leaves the company or moves to another position, the relationship normally ends,” Geise said. “Inspire Sheboygan County starts at the top with CEOs and presidents of businesses, executive directors of organizations and district administrators at the schools.

“We form the relationship with the leaders at the top and that extends down to the career coaches, so it is an institutional relationship that will last through any personnel changes,” he said. “The idea is that through these partnerships, if a career coach leaves a particular employer, another career coach will step in and continue in the same capacity.”

Geise is also committed to helping students think career interest areas at a younger age.

“If a students waits until high school to start thinking about a particular career field, they are already behind in the game,” Geise said. “That is why we say this is for K-12 schools, because the conservation about jobs and careers can start at any age, certainly by middle school.

“Exposing students to these opportunities and forming these relationships earlier on will be benefi- cial both to the students and the the employers over the long term,” he said. “The students learns what it takes to get a job in a career field and the employers learn what kind of workers they can expect and what they can do to find trained and motivated workers in the coming years.”

Geise, who currently serves on the Sheboygan Falls School Board, has already attracted the Sheboygan, Sheboygan Falls and Plymouth school districts to join Inspire Sheboygan County.

He has also signed top local employers, such as Sargento, Rockline, Curt Joa, Kohler Co., Masters Gallery, Kiefer Sign and Kohler Credit Union to participate.

“I have been focusing mainly on employers so far and the response and level of interest has been tremendous,” Geise said. “We’ve also received support from the Sheboygan County Chamber of Commerce, Sheboygan County Economic Development Corp. and several of the post secondary schools in the area. This is gaining a lot of momentum and I think it will only grow as we move through the school year.

“Schools are early in their year right now and we are working to set up the connections, but they will be starting soon,” he said. “My hope is to have every school district in the county participating in this, as well as a large number of employers in the county.”

Geise says Inspire Sheboygan County will be entirely self-sufficient with no taxpayer money used to support its system.

“This is funded completely by the schools and employers that use it,” Geise said. “The partnership fee schedule will be proportional to the size of the school district, business or organization. In addition, charitable non-profits will not pay a fee to participate.

The leadership of Inspire Sheboygan County consists of Geise, who serves as the fulltime coordinator, along with a nine-member Advisory Board consisting of three employer representatives, three school district representative and one representative each from the Sheboygan County Commerce, Sheboygan County Economic Development Corp. and post-secondary educational institution.

“The Advisory Board will play a key role in making assessments and decisions on what is working and what can be improved,” Geise said. “Getting feedback from people participating in Inspire will be a big key to its success.”

Along with students, employers and educators, Geise says parents are another important piece in the Inspire Sheboygan County puzzle.

“We need to engage parents in this process, because they play one of the biggest roles in the education and career path of students,” Geise said. “All four pieces – students, employers, educators and parents – need to work in sync to make this all happen. Everyone needs to work together.”

For more information about Inspire Sheboygan County, call the Sheboygan County Chamber of Commerce at 457-9491, e-mail pgeise@inspiresheboygancounty.org or visit www.inspiresheboygancounty.org


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