ja jobspark | EmployIndy

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Erika Cheney, EmployIndy Director of In-School Youth

In the Spring of 2016, I was one of four local leaders who travelled to witness and experience the Southwest Alabama Workforce Development Council’s World of Opportunities event, which became the framework for JA JobSpark. I was chosen to travel because I am the Director of In-School Youth Services for EmployIndy, Indianapolis’ Workforce Development Board, and I serve on the JA JobSpark Steering committee and as the facilitator for the Government, Law, and Public Service Cluster.

Erika Cheney and Leslie Crist (Assoc. Chief of Workforce Programs for Indiana DWD) at 2017 JA JobSpark

My direct impact on the growth of JA JobSpark has stimulated EmployIndy’s involvement and partnership with many local businesses and organizations. We have staff members on the JA JobSpark Marketing committee, Volunteer and Logistics subcommittee, day-of volunteers, and who participate in JA for A Day! (employees go into IPS schools and teach Junior Achievement curriculum). EmployIndy also has staff members from our Business Partnerships team who sit on the different committees for each industry cluster.

JA JobSpark is such a unique event here in Indianapolis. I love to see the excitement on each of the kids’ faces when they come through the door and experience it for the first time. One of the major reasons that EmployIndy chooses to be so heavily involved in this event is that the 8th grade students who attend are given opportunities to explore and learn more about a variety of occupations that they may not know previously existed. As Director of In-School Youth, I oversee all of EmployIndy’s in-school programs, which focus on getting young adults to take those steps to further their careers. For many, JA JobSpark is the first opportunity to get young adults interested in their futures as they progress into high school, begin to think about career exploration, and become knowledgeable about postsecondary opportunities.

I believe that knowledge is power – the more we are able to arm Indianapolis youth with the awareness of the variety of potential career options, the more they can be prepared for their next step.

The hands-on resources open doors for these 8th graders as they learn more about a variety of careers and different workforce sectors. Questions created from this event will open doors for the students to ask employers, professionals in the field, about their jobs and the steps they took to get where they are today. After they attend the event, they leave with the freedom to ask their teachers more about career clusters and the job opportunities they experienced during JA JobSpark.

Beyond just providing knowledge, I believe it is crucial that every participant is gifted with the tools and resources they need to make good decisions about their future. JA JobSpark helps students be more thoughtful about what they want to be when they grow up. These rewards make it worth all of the finances, time, and long nights that are put towards making this program possible and making a difference in someone’s life. Our hope is that this experience will encourage students to make better choices in their future and share their involvement with the participants who come after them.

Since JA JobSpark kicked off in 2016, it has created a wave in the business community. There is a buzz around how important it is to invest in the future of the workforce, and it starts with molding individuals while they are young to both chase their dreams and learn that the effort and hard work are worth it. It makes the Government, Law, and Public Service cluster stand out. Although it isn’t always the highest paying sector, the payoff is more than rewarding with the daily opportunities to better the lives of the community and gain a strong desire to help people. These characteristics carry over into your home life and shape you into a person that is influential and will have a positive impact on the lives of those around you.