Pikes Peak Business & Education Alliance new Marketplace website

Theresa Klinitski, operations coordinator for the Pikes Peak Business & Education Alliance, trains Calhan High School seniors on how to use the new Marketplace website. Photo by Debbie Kelley

Calhan High School senior Kieran Kneis is interested in landscaping, the arts and psychology.

She’s not sure how all that might translate into a career, but she’s hoping the new “Marketplace” website created by the Pikes Peak Business & Education Alliance will help her figure it out.

“It’s innovative. It’s new,” she said Wednesday while trying out the program.

Students plug information into the website to identify their personal characteristics and workforce traits. They then are connected with area businesses for job shadowing, individual mentorships, internships and apprenticeships.

“It’s good to give us a lot of opportunities as seniors to expand and pick what we’re guaranteed to be interested in,” Kieran said.

The Pikes Peak Business & Education Alliance formed as a public-private partnership 21/2 years ago, after area businesses began expressing frustration and fatigue about being contacted by 15 separate school districts in El Paso County for student internships and other career-related assistance.

The reemergence of voc-tech, now known as career technical education, also was a consideration, said Bob Gemignani, the alliance’s program director.

The Business & Education Alliance took root under the umbrella of the Pikes Peak Board of Cooperative Educational Services, an organization that provides local school districts with services such as special education.

After getting buy-in for its business plan in January from the 12 largest school districts in El Paso County, the Business & Education Alliance launched the Marketplace website Sept. 23.

Wednesday’s presentation in Calhan was the first training session for area students, said Theresa Klinitski, the alliance’s operations coordinator.

“It’s helping students figure out how they fit in the world today and where to start with their future,” she said.

The program also creates a resume for students, based on work experience, school activities and other profile information students provide.

The business community has embraced the idea of collaboration instead of competition, Klinitski said.

“Businesses are receptive and excited to train the future generation and help transfer knowledge,” she said.

As of Wednesday, 102 businesses had signed up to offer students work-related experience via contact made through the website, Gemignani said.

“People think after you graduate from high school you either go to college or you work in fast food or hospitality,” he said. “There’s a whole swath of occupations in between fast food and rocket science that don’t require a college degree.”

The field of health care has the most openings in the Pikes Peak region, as of December 2018, Gemignani said. Registered nurses are leading the way, along with related occupations, such as medical assisting, lab tech, surgical tech and imaging.

Information technology, computer science and cybersecurity jobs are the second-highest in need of workers.

Skilled crafts and trades are next, followed by culinary arts and hospitality. Rounding out the top five industries with job openings are general business operations and retail, Gemignani said.

The Business & Education Alliance is focusing on those five sectors in its business plan as well as student placement, he said.

There are 6,000 open seats for work-based learning opportunities for students region-wide. Since Marketplace debuted two and a half weeks ago, Gemignani said connections encompassing 400 students, who will participate in experiential learning at local companies, have been made.

“Our business community is doing back flips about this collaboration and having a single entity to connect with school systems,” he said. “We felt if we unified and collaborated, it would be transformational.”

School districts pay for the service based on enrollment, Gemignani said, with smaller districts being charged $2,750 for the school year and larger districts paying $46,000 or so. Businesses, for the most part, donate employees’ time and talent, he said.

The money is worth it, Calhan School District RJ-1 Superintendent David Slothower said.

“The site is a significant tool in assisting students to find career paths, internships and apprenticeships,” he said.

Slothower said he wanted to roll out the idea in Calhan during Colorado Applies Month and Tuesday’s free college admission application day for the state’s 32 public colleges and universities.

“I wanted students to envision a wider scope to make inroads into their future,” he said.

Seventeen-year-old Mary “Allisha” Wilson ruled out firefighter, mechanic and molecular scientist, among other potential careers.

“I think I want to be a teacher,” she said, “but I really don’t know. I hoping this helps me find out.

“I think it’s pretty cool.”

Contact the writer: 719-476-1656.

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