The Lake of the Ozarks Regional Economic Development Corporation and the local Council of Governments have partnered with the School of the Osage, Eldon and Camdenton school districts in pursuing workforce-ready options for lake-area students.

A new task force or partnership between schools and business in the Lake area is working to benefit both schools and the local economy through implementation of more career preparation opportunities for students.

The Lake of the Ozarks Regional Economic Development Corporation and the local Council of Governments have partnered with the School of the Osage, Eldon and Camdenton school districts in pursuing workforce-ready options for lake-area students.

In recent months, LOREDC and COG officials have taken study trips to Springfield to visit the Greater Ozarks Center for Advanced Professional Students (GO CAPS). GO CAPS is a yearlong learning experience that allows high school juniors and seniors to test drive future career options. Students develop real world professional skills as they are embedded in partner businesses.

The task force feels that if lake-area schools join CO CAPS, the workforce should focus on local enterprises such as health care through Lake Regional Health Systems and entrepreneurial to reflect the unique role that small business development and successes plays in the Lake economy.

GO CAPS is a consortium of 16 area school districts: Bolivar, Branson, Fair Grove, Hollister (associate), Logan-Rogersville, Marshfield, Monett (affiliate), Nixa, Ozark, Reeds Spring, Republic, Spokane, Springfield, Strafford, West Plains (affiliate) and Willard. The Springfield Area Chamber of Commerce manages the GO CAPS program and Springfield Public Schools serves as the fiscal agent.

Dr. Laura Nelson, School of the Osage assistant superintendent, has been working with Eldon and Camdenton superintendents to assess the fit of the GO CAPS philosophy with the three school districts and may implement the program in the future.

At a recent gathering of Lake Area, Camdenton and Lake West Chamber members, Camdenton Superintendent Dr. Tim Hadfield and Assistant Superintendent Dr. Ryan O’Neal announced that Camdenton High School has joined GO CAPS and would be starting it off with 44 seats available in health care and manufacturing.

As a sort of internship-mentorship program, GO CAPS is a chance to give students real hands-on work experiences. Students work 2.5 hours a day during the week - either a shift in the morning or in the afternoon, in which they drive themselves to the job.

Students can be fired from their jobs, said Hadfield. Part of the experience is learning soft skills such as a strong work ethic, punctuality and being professional with customers or clients, he said. Students are also exposed to guest lecturers, facility tours of businesses and job shadowing. They are also required to complete a capstone project as part of the year-long program.

If the program is a success, the district may look at adding entrepreneurship as a third strand in addition to health care and manufacturing.

Improving career education for students at all levels can also help cut down on extra college costs as tuition rises, said O’Neal. Students may only begin to explore career options when they get in college or tech school and rack up more in burdensome student loans as they figure out what they want to do.

Not only do businesses get an additional worker out of their participation, Hadfield said they are asking businesses to make sure they have the kids doing relevant work in addition to menial tasks that need to be done. The students’ bosses have the opportunity to encourage and develop the future workforce that they need.

“This is going to blow kids’ mindset. They’re used to being in our walls, following the bell,” Hadfield said. “We have smart kids, and we want them solving problems, not just doing menial stuff, although those things are important too.”

Recent workforce studies sponsored by LOREDC in the Lake area have actually shown a shortage of workers to fill open skilled labor positions in health care and manufacturing sectors which is why these options within GO CAPS were selected to kick off the program.

Skilled labor in these industries exists in the Lake area now, but many students may not realize the opportunities the region offers in this regard, said Hadfield, instead thinking they have to leave the region for careers.

The implementation of GO CAPS in Camdenton comes as School of the Osage in turn tests the waters of the Registered Apprenticeship system, another workforce ready program, under the umbrella of the U.S. Department of Labor.

While GO CAPS is relatively new, the Registered Apprenticeship system has been utilized to meet the needs of America's skilled workforce for over 75 years. It is a unique, flexible training system that combines job-related technical instruction with structured on-the-job learning experiences. Registered Apprenticeship is a leader in preparing American workers to compete in a global 21st Century economy because the system keeps pace with advancing technologies and innovations in training and human resource development.

The Registered Apprenticeship system provides the opportunity for workers seeking high-skilled, high-paying jobs and for employers seeking to build a qualified workforce, according to the DOL's website.

School of the Osage will be applying for a Registered Apprenticeship in Information Technology since the district's emphasis in recent years has been to introduce state-of-the-art technology in all grade levels, and to improve the overall technology climate at each of the campuses.

Students who participate in the Apprenticeship Program could earn wages while still in high school. Training continues after graduation from high school, helps ensure the individual's employability and students receive a certificate of completion from the U.S. Secretary of Labor.