Simulated Workplace preparing today's students to be tomorrow's workers

Marion City Schools gave business and community leaders a preview on Wednesday of how the school district and Rushmore Academy plan to prepare today's career technical education students to be tomorrow's work-ready employees.

The school district rolled out its simulated workplace program to about 35 representatives of Marion's business and higher education sectors. The preview enabled them to not only hear about how the project will benefit the community but also try out the virtual reality technology that will be used to teach soft skills to students.

"Our simulated workplace program will shift classrooms into workplace company settings, while introducing students to various business processes," said Amy Wood, Marion City Schools' director of educational programs and grants. "By immersing students in simulated workplace, student-led companies provide students with an understanding of all aspects of an industry or business and show them how their individual success leads to the company's success."

West Virginia launched Simulated Workplace four years ago. Since then it has been replicated in Alabama, Tennessee, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Missouri, Kentucky and the country of Australia. A $623,605 Straight A Innovation Fund Grant awarded by the state to partners Rushmore Academy, Marion City Schools and the Mahoning County Educational Service Center will enable them to be the pioneers of Simulated Workplace in Ohio.

Career focus areas will be: Global logistics and supply chain management, health technologies, integrated production technologies, manufacturing, automotive technologies and construction technologies.

The initiative will transform traditional career technical classrooms to emulate business structures, processes and expectations. It will directly teach soft skills like critical thinking, team work and professionalism. Marion business and industry representatives will be asked to evaluate programs yearly.

Marion County Job and Family Services Director Roxane Somerlot said her department worked with more than 350 businesses last year that were seeking employees. She said all shared common traits that they wanted to see in employees. Those traits included people who were dependable, could pass a drug test, work in an environment with a diversity of people and make work a priority in their lives. "It's all of those what we like to call soft skills that are more difficult to identify and more difficult to train for," she said.

Marion City Schools Superintendent Gary Barber said the simulated workplace program fits in tightly with Diploma Plus Acceptance, an effort to make sure students graduate with acceptance to higher education, a job apprenticeship program, the military or a high-earning career.

"It's an avenue to train our students so our students do not experience any surprises when starting their careers," Barber said.

Community and business leaders also learned how Marion City Schools and Rushmore Academy will use virtual reality to teach soft skills. The Straight A grant will enable them to work with Kent State University's Research Center for Educational Technology to build virtual reality trainings for and with students.
Amy Wood talked about how companies are using cutting edge technologies to train Generation Z employees. "This is not only because of the technology itself, but because typical gaming experiences include features such as immediate feedback, clear objectives and a staged series of challenges that significantly drive participation and motivation," she said.
STEM teacher Ricardo Lehman demonstrated the Oculus Rift virtual reality headsets that students will use.
Attendees experienced virtual reality technology similar to what students will be using as the presentation concluded.

Businesses and industries can assist Marion City Schools and Rushmore Academy, a community school sponsored by Marion City Schools, by visiting our career technical programs and rating each program.

Participating in the simulated workplace program gives companies the opportunity to help develop better training programs that will help build their workforce in the future. They will get to speak with potential employees and recruit employees through the programs.

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