Connecting the dots between learning
and employment.

Idaho Program Links High Schoolers with Coaches Through Text, Skype

Eleanor Lamb

The Idaho Pathways to Early Career High School (PTECH) Network links high school students in the state with career coaches through Skype and text messages.

PTECH is a nonprofit organization that connects juniors and seniors in high school who may not be on track to attend a four-year university with specialized trade positions that fit their interests. PTECH corresponds with Idaho companies seeking workers within the fields of aerospace and advanced manufacturing, information technology, and health care. Teachers or counselors will recommend a student for PTECH, although Gina Borud, media liaison at PTECH, said the company is working on a way to reach out to students directly. PTECH will connect these students with a one-on-one mentor through InsideTrack, a company that specializes in personalized education.

PTECH issues students laptops, through which they can take classes preparing them for certificate programs or associates’ degrees as they balance their regular high school course loads. Students can chat with their coaches over Skype or text them for advice on career paths and interview tips. Borud said that some ask how to tie ties.

“Skype is popular,” Borud said. “We still have trouble with Internet in some places. Some students still have flip phones. So Skype is a popular choice.”

In addition to linking students to InsideTrack’s tools and giving students laptops, PTECH pays for student textbooks and occasionally flies students across the state to meet with potential employers. In total, 238 students representing 17 high schools participate in the PTECH Network, which began in the fall of 2014. Most of them are still in school, either at the high school or certificate program level.

Borud said PTECH does not guarantee jobs, but they do make sure students continue to meet with their coaches throughout their post-high school education. However, three students went through an accelerated program and have already started careers at Quest Aircraft company.

Borud, who hails from the neighboring state of Oregon, said there are companies in Idaho seeking employees that many students simply do not know about, such as the Chobani factory in Twin Falls and a large number of technical jobs. PTECH has 10 industry partners and 15 supporting industries, according to its website. Borud said PTECH’s goal is to have 50 students in good jobs by next year.

“Our goal is to help kids find well-paying careers and help the Idaho economy. We’re trying to connect the dots. This is one opportunity of many in the state. It’s not for everyone, but it is one option,” Borud said. “We’re still developing the model, but things are really promising.”

How Text Messages Help Mentors Connect with Students in Idaho

Nichole Dobo
Hechinger Report

The text message is a powerful tool in an unconventional high school program in Idaho. The technology allows mentors working with Idaho PTECH to reach high school students in far-flung places in this sparsely populated state. The high-tech, one-on-one mentoring is part of a pilot program that aims to help students discover and prepare for a career that they can embark on right out of high school, or with minimal post-secondary training.

In a state like Idaho, where rural students greatly outnumber those in urban centers, reaching students with the right message at the right time is part of a larger effort to prepare students for life after high school. Idaho PTECH works with industry leaders to figure out what jobs are in demand locally, and what skills are needed for them. In return, it helps students who are interested match with the experiences (academically and socially) they need to get into those careers.

The concept of using text messages to guide students has been backed up by research. Electronic, personalized messages have helped boost student activity during summer months, encouraged parents to do activities that improve early literacy and caught students on the verge of dropping out of high school. It is not just the act of sending a message that matters. The information in it – and the time of day it’s sent – can make a difference.

Idaho PTECH’s mentoring program makes use of InsideTrack, a company that assists with personalized mentoring. Students are also being mentored via an online group – sort of like Facebook – where they interact and do activities. And the mentors are available by phone, too.

Dave Jarrat, a vice president at InsideTrack, said the company had discovered, through work that included mentoring programs at large, well-known universities, that electronic modes of communication allowed them to work with more students more effectively. Some students prefer to talk via text message, for instance, and they open up more to mentors when contacted that way.

“Technology has really helped with that,” said Hayley Kimble, a PTECH mentor from InsideTrack. “Get on the phone and it’s just one-word answers. But I can text back and forth with a student and they won’t lose focus.”

That’s not to say the technology simply serves messages in the most comfortable format. The mentors (they call themselves coaches) ask questions to determine the goals of each student. Some students need to be pushed outside their comfort zone. Kimble worked with one student, who had been homeschooled, on his telephone skills, which were sorely lacking. Improving that skill was important to the student’s success after high school.

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World, Here They Come

By Ann Wallace
Idaho Business Review

Although our model of public education doesn’t appear on the outside to have changed much since it was established in schoolhouses centuries ago, education policy has been pushed in many directions over the years by the economy, politics, competition from other nations, and the spirit of the times.

This year, as high school seniors all over the country receive their diplomas, the times are calling for a radical change from the aspirational model of the four-year college degree. If they’re paying attention, students and parents have been hearing about a host of alternatives to that path. Employers have made it clear they need specialized skills that can’t necessarily be found in the traditional classroom.

Some of those graduates who were paying attention will soon be earning certificates through a new program started by Idaho’s Division of Professional/Technical Education or PTE, soon to be Career/Technical Education. Working with PTECH, a northern Idaho program that helps high school students earn the credentials and skills they need to start work after graduation, PTE expects to issue its first “microcertificates” this summer to 10 graduating seniors who will apply for jobs at Quest Aircraft Company in Sandpoint.

Leaders with the Idaho PTECH Network recruited the 10 seniors earlier this year through their short-term workforce development program and steered them into online coursework in areas such as safety and blueprint reading through North Idaho College.

The PTECH Network started in the 2014-2015 school year and is supported by a grant from the J.A. and Kathryn Albertson Family Foundation.

Through PTECH programs, high school students enroll in community college after 10th grade. The 10 students in the Quest cohort attend Forrest Bird Charter School, Sandpoint High School, Clark Fork High School, Priest River High School, and Wallace High School. Nine are male; one is female. They’re different from PTECH’s initial target audience; they were approached about the program as seniors after Quest contacted PTECH officials looking for workers who would fit in a specific area tied to Quest’s manufacturing method.

The 10 will learn technical and soft skills in August that will help them fit into the workplace culture. Then, they’ll apply for jobs at Quest. Their work won’t be for credit, but their microcertificates will show Quest they have acquired the skills the company needs. It’s part of PTE’s “skill stack” certification program. There is no cost to the students; PTECH paid for the NIC training.

Quest doesn’t pay PTECH to prepare the students, but Jason Eddy, Quest’s senior vice president of operations, said the aircraft company promotes the micro certificate program around the state, and helped NIC develop the curriculum.

Theirs will be among the first microcertificate badges issued through PTE. Boise State University has issued some for leadership development and service learning, and Boise State’s Responsible Business Initiative is developing badges for its participants now.

The difference between a badge and more common measures of achievement, such as a high school transcript, is that the badge shows the holder has mastered a skill, not just spent the hours in the classroom. In addition to the aerospace program, a forest products group is working with North Idaho College on badges for programmable logic control, a top priority for wood products manufacturing companies that need people who can run complex and very specific machinery.

“Those industries are saying, ‘We want something we can recognize,” said Wendi Secrist, who runs PTE’s badge program.

The students aren’t guaranteed jobs, but they’ve visited Quest and spoken to the mid-level managers who helped screen the first cohort of students. If hired, they’ll make starting pay of $12.50 an hour. Quest has 271 employees, almost all of them in Sandpoint, and is expected to hire 35 more in the coming year.

“The micro certificate program would improve the quality of the candidates applying,” said Eddy, of Quest. “Students who completed the micro certificate program would have a demonstrated interest in the aerospace industry, resulting in better job retention; understand drawings and quality requirements; and be able to contribute to production much faster due to previous training.”

PTECH’s program includes some technical training but also prepares students with skills like teamwork and communication, said Alan Millar, PTECH’s executive director. He’d like to see the program replicated around the state.

“We’ve had many employers tell us, ‘If you help me find someone who can fit my culture, I’ll pay you for training and education,’” he said. “It’s a bigger challenge to find someone who has those soft skills than it is to find someone who has a technical degree.”

Anne Wallace Allen is editor of the Idaho Business Review.

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PUBLICATION: Forbes Insights - Innovation and Collaboration in Job Training

An excerpt from the Forbes Insights report: Digitizing Human Services

For-profit and NFP providers are working with schools, colleges and universities to infuse technology and revolutionize job-training and workforce development. The Idaho Pathways in Technology Early College High School (PTECH) model melds the interests and capabilities of public schools, private businesses, universities, community colleges and students. Essentially, PTECH serves as a facilitator of crucial conversations among employers, education departments and students. Learning what employers need, PTECH helps all parties figure out the best uses of technology and processes to help students become workforce-ready.

According to Executive Director Alan Millar, the PTECH model had its beginnings in 2010 when IBM approached the City of Brooklyn with an innovative approach to jobs training. The idea, says Millar, “was to make education more relevant to the students, giving them a path to college credits and skills IBM needed,” becoming a win for all parties concerned. The program in Brooklyn and elsewhere has been so successful, says Millar, “that we decided to bring it to Idaho, but tailor it to fit our unique needs.”

But “if you haven’t noticed,” says Millar, “there are some geographic differences between Idaho and Brooklyn.” For one, while Brooklyn is densely populated, Idaho is decidedly rural. Consequently, not only are students widely dispersed, but schools are smaller, “meaning less concentration in teachers/professors” in the technical areas desired by employers. Such issues, says Millar, “make technology even more important.”

Another difference: while Brooklyn has $92 billion IBM as a sponsor, Idaho has no single employer of such scale. As a result, says Millar, “we had to build a consortium of partners from technology, aerospace and healthcare.” Another key contributor to the program is the J.A. and Kathyrn Albertson’s Foundation, an organization committed to the education of Idahoans.

In addition, all PTECH programs face similar challenges in terms of garnering the support and cooperation not only of the public school system but also that of universities and community colleges. “This requires a great deal of flexibility for all concerned,” says Millar. For example, “colleges tend to resist the idea of breaking tech courses down into bite-sized pieces,” says Millar. Meanwhile, for public school teachers and administrators, “this has a significant impact on scheduling and other areas.” Overall, says Millar, “it’s easy to  sell the concept—but it’s a lot harder to make it work.”

Enablement begins with the provision of hardened, dedicated-to-the-program-only laptops for all of the students.

In spite of such challenges, Idaho PTECH saw its first four participants graduate high school in June 2015, with many more behind. These initial students, still part of the PTECH program as they progress, “already have college credits in areas that are relevant to employers in the state.” As a result, says Millar, “we believe [this] will lead to better performance and earlier success across the span of their careers. We’re kickstarting their lives.”

Execution, however, requires a significant degree of technology. Because of the distributed nature of the program, classes are 100% “online,” says Millar. Enablement begins with the provision of hardened, dedicated-to-the-program-only laptops for all of the students. Millar says his group gets it done “for just $460 per student” in two ways. First, these are no-nonsense “basic machines” that are purpose-built to meet the needs of the program and nothing more. “These are not the students’ personal laptops—these are for school only,” says Millar.

Second, the machines are centrally monitored and maintained. “So wherever they log on, what students see is filtered.” Plus, “our help desk can take over the laptops remotely, to provide maintenance, software updates or whatever is needed.” This not only makes for a more convenient and relatively worry-free student experience, the technology “is remarkably efficient, safe and cost effective,” says Millar.

One of the biggest surprises so far: life coaching is more important than technical training. As Millar explains, “What employers really want are life skills: persistence, communication, collaboration. Workers with these attributes can learn what they need on the job.” As a result, Millar is working to enhance the “softer” side of the program, enabled in large part by the assignment of a life coach.

Life coaching begins with technology. Students each have a coach that they meet with regularly—virtually—through tools such as video chat and text. But it continues with real-life programs such as a summer camp for aerospace and leadership training. “To the extent we can give these kids actual life experience,” says Millar, “we can improve their motivation and employability.”

Idaho PTECH began with eight schools and 90 students in the fall of 2014 and is adding another eight schools and 100 students this fall. To date, PTECH students have earned 415 college credits, successfully completing 94% of college credits attempted. Many are already finding job shadow and internship placements through the more than 20 Idaho industry partners. As the program moves through the development and testing stage, the focus remains on building a model that consistently and flexibly addresses student and employer needs.

Read the full Forbes Insights report here.

Cultivating the Technology Talent of Tomorrow in Rural Idaho

Innovative Pilot Program for Idaho High School Students Demonstrates the Power of Coaching in Improving College and Career Readiness

Bonner County Daily Bee - June 2, 2015

Sagle, an unincorporated community in northern Idaho with a population of roughly 6000 is best known for its hiking, mountain biking, hunting and fishing.  It’s also the home of Jimmy Soderberg, who recently graduated from the Idaho Distance Education Academy (I-DEA), an online public charter school serving K-12 students across the state.  Jimmy is one of several recent Idaho high school graduates who participated in an innovative pilot program known as the Idaho PTECH Network (“Pathways to Technology, Early College High School”) and he is well on his way to a rewarding technology career.

Idaho PTECH is a pilot program funded by the J.A. and Kathryn Albertson Family Foundation.  Its mission is to bridge the gap between education and industry.  It provides students with the credentials and skills needed to secure well-paying jobs in Idaho’s high growth industries while giving businesses access to a qualified pipeline of employees. Along with giving student hands-on experience in the fields of technology, aerospace/advanced manufacturing and healthcare, the PTECH program also provides students with a success coach to support them in clarifying their long term goals, successfully completing their studies and transitioning to their first job. 

The coaching, which is provided by InsideTrack, a leading student success organization, is also generating valuable insights for PTECH and the participating institutions.  According to Alan Millar, executive director of the Idaho PTECH Network, “the data coming from coach-student interactions is proving invaluable in our strategic decision making as we develop this pilot program. Through coaching and our partnerships with employers, we’re learning that students need to develop strong soft skills – like problem-solving and time management – in order to be career-ready.  Coaching is helping us understand students and the challenges they face so we can support them through the high school to college transitions, and ultimately prepare them for well-paying and fulfilling careers.”

Millar cites the following as a few examples of the types of insights the program is generating:

  • Many rural students simply aren’t aware of the educational and career options available to them.  They assume that a 4-year college degree is the only path to a good career and, when that commitment seems overwhelming, they resign themselves to a life of limited opportunity.
  • Students don’t understand when and how to ask for help, and often view seeking help as a sign of weakness.  Once they experience proactive, judgment-free support, they engage with it wholeheartedly.
  • Academics and financial aid are not students’ primary concerns.  When asked what support they value most, students say it is having someone to talk to about what’s going on in their life, someone who will keep them motivated and focused on their future and their career.

Hayley Kimble of InsideTrack manages the coaching program and coaches PTECH students.  She echoes the common challenges students face. “They need help identifying the habits that get them off course and replacing them with more productive habits,” Kimble notes. “They also need encouragement and support in taking ownership for their success and committing to long-term goals.” 

Kimble spends a good part of her time listening to students’ concerns and making sure they take full advantage of the support resources available through their schools and through the PTECH program.

“It’s amazing to watch how self-motivated and effective these young people become once they feel heard and get a little guidance on where to turn to for help,” she says.

As for Jimmy Soderberg, this fall he will head to North Idaho College (NIC) to complete a degree in IT, paid for in part by earning the Tom and Irene Wilson Memorial Scholarship.  In the meantime, he’s been hired as a contractor by the Bonner County IT Department and plans to spend the summer at home with his family.

  Jimmy Soderberg accepting the Tom and Irene Wilson Memorial Scholarship at a PTECH luncheon in May. Pictured with Deb Pence of the Idaho PTECH Network.

Jimmy Soderberg accepting the Tom and Irene Wilson Memorial Scholarship at a PTECH luncheon in May. Pictured with Deb Pence of the Idaho PTECH Network.

Jimmy credits the coaching program as a key factor in his success.  “Having a coach like Hayley has made the transition from high school to college exciting instead of stressful,” he says. “When I am overwhelmed with assignments and obligations it is really nice to have someone to talk to about it and figure things out. I cannot emphasize enough how much she helped me prepare for this next phase in my education.”

According to Bill Harp, Director of Bonner County’s Technology Department, Jimmy is already proving his value in the new job.

“Jimmy is providing technical skills and the ability to learn and assume new complex tasks at a prodigious rate in order to help the team provide technology services to meet the County's mission of serving the public,” says Harp. “We appreciate all his hard work."

Niki Vandenhouten, another PTECH student is also heading to NIC after graduating from Clark Fork High School, a rural school that was recently in danger of being closed due to declining enrollment and budget shortfalls.

“My academic experience has been a roller coaster ride at times,” says Niki. “But thanks to the support of my coach Hayley and the PTECH program, I’m on track.” 

Niki is headed for a career in Aerospace and was recently awarded the Providing Opportunities – Fulfilling Dreams Scholarship.

“I've always enjoyed hands on projects like working on my dad's truck or my car,” she notes. “This is one of the reasons I joined the PTECH Aerospace program. I'm excited to graduate high school, finish my Composites certificate and get my Associates in Applied Science degree in Airframe." 

Asked if she has any advice for other rural students uncertain about their future direction, Niki says, "it's not where you came from, it's where you're going – don’t be afraid to follow your passion.”

 Niki accepting the Providing Opportunities - Fulfilling Dreams Scholarship at a recent PTECH luncheon at NIC.  Pictured with Deb Pence of the Idaho PTECH Network.

Niki accepting the Providing Opportunities - Fulfilling Dreams Scholarship at a recent PTECH luncheon at NIC. Pictured with Deb Pence of the Idaho PTECH Network.

PTECH began with eight schools and 90 students in the fall of 2014 and is adding another eight schools and 100 students this fall. To date, PTECH students have earned 415 college credits, successfully completing 94 percent of college credits attempted.  Many are already finding job shadow and internship placements through the more than twenty Idaho industry partners. As the program moves through the development and testing stage, the focus remains on building a quality model that meets student and employer needs.

About Idaho PTECH
The Idaho PTECH Network (“Pathways to Technology, Early College High School”) is a partnership between industry, high schools and community colleges that prepares students for careers in Idaho’s high growth industries, including aerospace/ advanced manufacturing, technology and healthcare.   Idaho’s high growth industries are in need of qualified employees.  PTECH puts students on a path that includes careful selection of high school courses, online college courses taken while in high school, community college degree and certificate programs, and on site internships.   The program produces qualified graduates ready to fill well-paying jobs that meet the needs of Idaho’s employers.  

About InsideTrack
Society thrives when students succeed. Since 2001, InsideTrack has used a proven combination of coaching, analytics, consulting and technology to unlock potential in 1 million+ students and 850+ academic programs.  We invite you to join the leading colleges, universities, foundations and others working with us to enhance the transformative power of higher education. Please visit us at and follow us on Twitter@InsideTrack.