Supporting career development in rural America, Part 3

How an innovative program and the personal connection of coaching put three small-town students on the path to success.

For students in small, rural communities, college is often a dream that goes unfulfilled. For those who do make it to college and complete their degree, they often have to move away to a big city where the better paying jobs in their field are more readily available. According to the U.S. Commerce Department, 98.7 percent of all population growth between 2008 and 2017 came from metropolitan areas — and this “brain drain” is one of the reasons why. The northern panhandle of Idaho is one such rural area. In 2014, the state created Idaho PTECH to help connect the dots between student and employer needs. 

A win-win for current employers and future employees

The idea behind Idaho PTECH was to give students from small rural towns the opportunity — and the tuition funds — to earn a career-ready associate’s degree in one of Idaho’s growing career fields. This includes information technology, medical assisting, and airplane maintenance and composites. Employers got the skilled, educated workers they needed, and graduates got a good paying job without having to leave the state.

As part of the program, PTECH students have access to InsideTrack Coaches to help them with everything from balancing life in and outside of school to developing communication, persistence, grit, teamwork, creativity, critical thinking and problem solving skills. This series tells the stories of three of these students in various stages of completing their degrees and beginning their careers — students who all worked with Coach Supervisor Hayley Kimble.

This is Part 3 in a three-part series. Read Elsa’s story here. If you missed the previous installments, learn more about Niki (and get more background on PTECH) in Part 1 and Andrew in Part 2.

“I wanted to do something with my life.”

Elsa was a high school sophomore in Marsing, Idaho, when she joined PTECH. Older students already in the program told her about taking career-specific community college courses while still in high school. In Elsa’s case, that meant working to become a medical assistant. “I always wanted to be in a health care or medical field, and PTECH gave me a way to make that happen,” she recalls. “We got to go to college campuses to learn about their health care programs and we went to St. Luke’s Hospital to learn about careers. That’s when I realized how many health care jobs there were.”

For Elsa, the financial concerns associated with going to college have always been a worry. That’s one of the reasons the first step on her higher ed career journey was completing a medical assistant program (in less than a year) and passing the national certification. She needed to be able to make money so she could afford everyday living costs and help fund further education. To that end, Elsa has begun her foray into the medical profession by working three days a week in an urgent care facility. Here, she stocks the rooms, makes sure the triage area is always ready, and enacts quality controls for autoclaved instruments and temperature-controlled vaccines. 

Beginning classes this fall to earn her nursing degree  will be the culmination of her hard work, making her the first person in her family to attend college. “I wanted to do something with my life,” she says.

“I didn’t want to graduate from high school not knowing what I was going to do next. And I wanted to set an example for my siblings.” 

“Elsa has always been brave and faced her challenges,” says Kimble. “Most people shy away from the thing that’s scary, but not Elsa.” 

How important was it for Elsa to have a coach in her corner? “I would have felt lost without Hayley,” she says.

“I can tell her anything. She’s always there for me. We talk about specific topics and she helps keep me on track and focusing on my career. And even though the coaching is over, she still checks in on me and I know I can always reach out.”

So how does Elsa sum up her PTECH experience? “I want a future for myself and my family. Now I have that.”

Working to close the opportunity gap

As the divide between rural and urban continues to widen — both in terms of job and population growth — it’s critical to give high school students a clear path to a career that provides them with a livable wage and the ability to remain in the area. By incorporating one-on-one coaching into a program’s support strategy, institutions, employers, and students all win. Students who may not have otherwise been considering college have a champion on their side — someone who helps them identify strengths and weaknesses, set goals, and develop successful time-management and academic habits — building a relationship that will motivate each student to reach their full potential. 

Through the use of coaching in the Idaho PTECH program, rural students were able to obtain the college degrees and workplace skills required for high-growth industries in their own backyard, helping to bridge the gap between education and industry. 

Find out how an innovative program and the personal connection of coaching put three small-town students on the path to success:

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