Indiana offers free career coaching to all residents

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Delece Smith-Barrow

By Olivia Sanchez

When the coronavirus pandemic hit, Tansy Troup was going on two decades as a seamstress, working full time at a dry-cleaning business in Evansville, Indiana. With her hours cut back and a compromised immune system, she was forced to finally face a truth she’d been wrestling with for a while: She needed to go back to school and get a new job.
 
Using a grant from the state, she enrolled in a Microsoft Office certificate program at Ivy Tech Community College. She surprised herself by making the dean’s list, and realized she wanted to keep pushing toward a degree.
 
“But I was absolutely so unsure of even what to do at all,” Troup said.
 
Because Ivy Tech has a career coaching office, Troup, who is 38 and a first-time college student, didn’t have to figure it out alone. In the fall, she will start working toward an associate degree in business operations, applications and technology. She plans to continue working with the coach as she looks for job opportunities over the next few years.
 
Now all Indiana residents – whether enrolled in college or not – are eligible for free career coaching through a partnership between Ivy Tech and the governor’s office. Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb’s workforce cabinet – a group set up to address education and employer needs in the state – is contributing $1.2 million in an effort to zap some life into the state’s pandemic economy and help people who are floundering professionally define their next steps.
 
The virus crisis put hundreds of thousands of Indiana residents out of work, and although widespread vaccination efforts have allowed many businesses to reopen, many are still struggling. The state partnership with Ivy Tech is using federal coronavirus relief dollars to try to help them regain stability.
 
Caitlin Collins, a career coach supervisor at InsideTrack, the group that will handle the advising at Ivy Tech, said it’s not a job placement program, but a program to connect any adult in the state with a career coach who can help them focus their goals and figure out the things they need to achieve them.
 
InsideTrack is a higher education consulting company that is typically hired by individual colleges to do direct career or academic coaching with students or to train college staff to do the coaching themselves.
 
Indiana reinstated its work search requirement for unemployment insurance in early June, and participating in this career coaching program can satisfy the requirement for those who remain jobless, according to Sam Rourke, a spokesperson for the Governor’s Workforce Cabinet.
 
Ivy Tech is paying for the program with $3 million in state CARES Act funding. Caroline Dowd-Higgins, vice president of career coaching and employer connections at Ivy Tech, said $1,225,500 is going to InsideTrack. The rest of the $3 million grant went toward a similar career coaching program specifically for Ivy Tech students, said PJ McGrew, the executive director of the Governor’s workforce cabinet.
 
Because the program only launched this week, it remains unclear how many residents will take advantage of the service, and whether it will help them land decent jobs.
 
The coaching could mean supporting people like Troup, who know they need to make a change but don’t know what to do or how to do it. It could mean helping people who lost jobs during the pandemic and need help reentering the workforce. Or it could mean helping people who are underemployed and don’t know how to leverage their skills and experience to get more profitable or fulfilling jobs.
 
Coaches will also be able to help residents update resumes and LinkedIn profiles, write cover letters and follow up on applications, Collins said. One career coach has been assigned so far and will carry a caseload of roughly 300 individuals at any given point in the year. If more people sign up, Collins said she will assign additional coaches to the program.
 
Dowd-Higgins said the college wanted to invest in the program even though it won’t serve current students because the school, which has 19 campuses across the state, shares the responsibility to ensure the Indiana job market is thriving. It could also help Ivy Tech gain students.
 
“It behooves us to be very aware of what's happening on the ground, and I'll be candid, some of these individuals may require upskilling or additional credentials, and the InsideTrack coaches can share the Ivy Tech opportunities,” Dowd-Higgins said. “That's not our motive, but we certainly want to be able to point any individual who needs additional skilling or credentialing, or micro credentialing, to consider Ivy Tech.”
 
Each person is eligible for four virtual coaching sessions over four months, and the program is set to run for a year.
 
Troup only met with her career coach a few times over the last few months when deciding what major to pursue at Ivy Tech, but she said she hopes to keep meeting with the coach as she makes her way toward graduation and tries to figure out what her new career path should look like.
 
Send story ideas and news tips to osanchez@hechingerreport.org. Tweet at @oliviarsanchez. Read high-quality news about innovation and inequality in education at The Hechinger Report.
 
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