Aspire Launches New Workforce Development Initiatives for 2023

By Aspire Economic Development + Chamber Alliance | | 3.7.23

Aspire’s School-to-Work Specialist, Jennifer Hollingshead, has been working with schools and employers across Johnson County, providing career exploration and work-based learning opportunities to local high school students at all six county schools since August of last year.

Hollingshead meets with different companies and industries to get them involved in providing work-based learning initiatives for students. Currently, there are 36 employers from throughout the county that have completed their employer workforce menus and are interested in participating in these initiatives.

The employers come from a wide range of industries and backgrounds including financial institutions, municipal government, health and beauty services, construction and engineering, advanced manufacturing, IT, armed forces, early childhood education, and more.

“Aspire’s workforce pipeline efforts are done with our businesses’ needs and our student’s futures in mind,” said Amanda Rubadue, Vice President of Economic Development at Aspire.

“We want to make sure our students are aware of the career opportunities available here locally and provide our businesses with the skilled workforce they need. These types of efforts not only impact our current industries but make Johnson County even more attractive for prospective companies, such as those in the advanced industries.”

Recently, Hollingshead provided 300 copies of their member guide to the Greenwood Community High School English department. Teachers will share these with current juniors to help them find a mentor for their senior capstone project for the 2023-24 school year.

In March, planned industry tours during SAT testing will feature one-hour tours at Caterpillar, Endress+ Hauser, KYB, FedEx Ground, Innovating 3D Manufacturing, Interstate Warehousing, Milwaukee Tool, NSK, and RPE Machining. These tours are designed for seniors who are most likely entering the workforce after high school graduation.

Starting this summer, Hollingshead plans to organize three teacher field trips in partnership with Ivy Tech Community College. They will spend a half-day taking teachers and school counselors to Johnson County companies to familiarize them with different career paths, education requirements, and skills needed to work in those industries.

“It is tough for schools and educators to make connections if they haven’t had exposure to business and industry,” said Nicole Otte, Director of Workforce Development at Endress + Hauser. “There are natural areas where this happens like CTE (Career and Technical Education) but having a champion for this issue like Aspire’s School-to-Work Specialist is so important for connecting businesses, who are just as unfamiliar with schools, with those educators.”

The ideal work-based learning program will be mutually beneficial to both students and employer partners.

“For the students, it is exposure to experience in the potential career path of interest, as well as connections to people in those roles that can serve as mentors and potentially future employers. For industry, it is a way to secure future talent,” said Otte.

A major goal in these workforce efforts for both Johnson County’s schools and businesses is to keep local workers and prevent “brain drain,” or the economic phenomenon of workforces in an area running out of talented and educated new workers who are instead seeking job opportunities outside of the community.

“If students are able to see all the possibilities in their own communities for future careers, they are more likely to want to stay here,” said Otte. “If they can envision themselves in the roles, or in other words: find people like them in the companies, they can envision themselves in this community.”

Otte emphasizes the value of providing students with educational programs that are as close to the real work experience as possible.

“These are some of the most critical experiences for high school students. If students don’t have the opportunity to experience and try on career roles, they will never know whether it is something they are truly interested in,” she said.

“We want to give students real projects and experiences. Whether it is an internship that gives students work right alongside industry professionals, or a field trip to the production floor, it is important students are exposed to real life in business.”

To keep up with the demand for high-quality work-based learning, Aspire’s ongoing workforce development efforts will continue year-round. Johnson County employers are encouraged to complete the employer workforce menus to determine how they can participate to strengthen our local education to occupation pipeline. Employers and educators interested in learning more about any of Aspire’s initiatives should contact Jennifer Hollingshead at or (317) 888-4856 ext. 113.