November is National Career Development Month, and Citizen Potawatomi Nation’s Workforce Development & Social Services Department helps clients prepare, expand skillsets and find jobs. They serve economically disadvantaged, unemployed and underemployed members of the greater CPN community with grant-funded programs and opportunities.
Before deciding on apprenticeships or educational avenues to pursue, Workforce counselors discuss options with clients and pick a field of work to try based on interests and current abilities. They sometimes refer them to the Gordon Cooper Technology Center’s Assessment Center to help determine a path.
“We’re looking at them whatever time and part of their life they’re in,” said Employment and Training Assistant Director and Grants Coordinator Margaret Zientek. “How can they be self-sufficient? … Is this something I want to do in the future? Do I want it to be an inside job, desk job, outside job, manual labor, physical job? Do I get excited on computers or whatever? But we’re helping them make a decision.”
She and other counselors keep their minds open and and their eyes on local employment opportunities. Helping someone pick a path remains one of Zientek’s favorite parts of her job.
“That’s how I get excited. I love to tell people, ‘Look! I saw this. Isn’t this awesome? Wouldn’t you like to do that?’” she said.
From that point, filling a small gap often helps a client succeed, whether that includes resume writing, interview practice or using the onsite computers to apply and check email.
“For some of them, it’s just being able to have the tool set or the clothing needed to take the job, and then working with them as they’re ready to grow,” Zientek said.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the need for high-paying, occupational jobs such as software developers, management analysts, construction managers, nurse practitioners and industrial engineers will grow much faster than other industries’ average 4 percent over the next 10 years.
“Get the training and the certification. Position yourself for the high-growth jobs in the area,” Zientek said.
While many jobs require a bachelor’s degree or more, Workforce staff focuses on skills and training for well-paying positions attainable with no degree.
Many occupations, including carpenters, electricians, plumbers and construction laborers all require apprenticeships and certifications; however, BLS data from 2018 indicates jobs in these fields could grow to at least double the average and result in more than the median annual wage.
WFSS offers opportunities for training, classes, programs and GED certifications for advancement.
The department hosts interns and summer camps each year, helping students learn soft skills, such as organization and cooperation, to help them create a foundation for career success.
“It isn’t just workforce development. It’s life skills. And it may be developing a workforce, but the same things you need for life skills are needed for the workforce,” Zientek said.
This summer, students in middle and high school attended virtual STEM camps with the American Indian Science and Engineering Society. Their activities included everything from building bridges and infrastructure with Legos to making snacks while accounting for nutritional value and taste.
The attendees also learned communication and presentation skills through the program’s science fair.
“I am really thrilled with how many we had, and the kids all get a prize just because they entered. So they get encouraged to do this in the future. It was amazing what all they did,” Zientek said, while noting their inclusion of Native culture while exploring topics such as ecology and astrology.
The department also helps youth 16 to 24 with work placements for the chance to work up to 120 hours in a field that sparks their interest. Data and staff coordinator Lynn Heath said trying out a potential career ensures confidence in the future.
“Why go to school for all of these years in something that you think you’re going to want, and it’s absolutely nothing that you thought it was going to be?” she said.
When helping someone, Workforce staff always keeps in mind that the possibilities stretch far and wide.
“It’s not a one-size-fits-all. It’s always, ‘What helps that person?’” Zientek said.