From shadowing to Lego Night, careers start in school

Real world: Job-shadowing for regional high school students is common at BAE Systems' Greenlawn facility.

One of the most important business relationships an employer can invest in is the school-business partnership.

Urgency in filling immediate and near-term jobs is an obvious priority. Advancing career awareness and skills development among the emerging workforce – those just entering the pipeline for future hiring – is just as critical.

In junior year of high school, we ask students what they think they might want to do for a living. Based on their answers, they’re guided to employment, post-secondary education or technical-training programs.

But what they “might want to do” is limited to what they have been exposed to. If they don’t know about your company or your industry, they aren’t going to work for you.

In fact, a good portion of the local skills gap companies are experiencing can be attributed to lack of awareness and understanding about the opportunities within the Long Island job market.

Teachers can’t leave the classroom to learn how the subjects they teach are used in careers. Aside from one or two days a year, professional development is often conducted on their own time – and often on their own dime.

But delivering professional expertise to the classroom brings curriculum to life, stimulates exploration and expands a student’s field of vision. It’s also an opportunity for industry to partner on curriculum so in-demand skills are being developed early on.

Consider studying chemistry to pass a test versus studying chemistry to find a cure for a disease, develop DNA for national security uses or create a protective coating for offshore wind turbines – right in your own backyard.

“When schools and businesses combine their knowledge, experience and resources, it benefits students, teachers and entire communities,” says Jared Bloom, assistant superintendent for instruction and curriculum in the South Huntington UFSD. “We have a captive audience. We can open their eyes to all the amazing ways they can use what they learn and what they love to develop a thriving career.”

Rosalie Drago: Shadowy motives.

Many on Long Island are already making the classroom-curriculum-career connection. One of the most well-known examples is Northwell Health’s SPARK! Challenge.

This system-wide career-awareness program highlights high-growth and lesser-known careers in healthcare. It encourages 11th- and 12th-grade students to explore diverse clinical and non-clinical career paths and ignites their interest in health-related STEM activities (for science, technology, engineering and mathematics).

The hands-on activities and collaboration between students and Northwell Health professionals has touched more than 76 regional school districts, with some 900 Greater New York students participating last year. This program – along with the Northwell Health Medical Marvels program, a research competition held in partnership with the Feinstein Institute for Medical Research – conducts outreach to all 125 Long Island districts, as well as schools in Westchester, Staten Island, Queens and Manhattan.

“I focus on transforming pipeline development through innovative programs, partnerships and talent communities,” notes Cheryl Davidson, Northwell Health’s senior director of workforce readiness and a steward of the Long Island STEM Hub.

“Engaging with schools, teachers and parents is part of my long-term strategy,” Davidson says. “Inspiring students to explore the scope of healthcare careers is key in developing a future workforce.”

Global aerospace, defense and security company BAE Systems cultivates engagement at various levels – simulating the manufacturing and engineering process for third graders with Legos at local STEAM Nights (adding “art” to STEM) and hosting high school students for tours and job shadowing at its thriving Greenlawn facility.

Whether it’s showing up to speak at Career Day, hosting a tour, sponsoring a robotics club or making time for job shadowing, employers can answer the age-old student question, “When will I ever use this in the real world?”

“Start somewhere, as big or small as you are comfortable with,” Davidson suggests. “Start with a school that your children go to, or (a district) your business is located in.”

Every company has a school in their backyard. If you’re interested in connecting with your local school district, you can reach to me at or connect with local Work Experience Coordinators through Mary Pat Grafstein, president of  the Work Experience Coordinators Association of New York State, at

Rosalie Drago is Long Island regional director for the Workforce Development Institute, a statewide nonprofit focused on job-creation and retention. The WDI pilots, supports and scales workforce-development initiatives that foster empowering careers for Long Islanders and a talented workforce for Long Island businesses.