Amid labor shortage, Austin nonprofit links high schoolers with high skill trade jobs


AUSTIN (KXAN) — For many high school students, trying to figure out what career path to pursue is a daunting task — and for many students, they might not know the full extent of what career options are out there. Now, a new Austin-based nonprofit organization is trying to change that.

Roy Spence, founder of advertising company GSD&M, launched the Make It Movement this fall as a post-secondary career resource database aimed at connecting students with high skilled career options and certification training. The nonprofit partners with Austin Community College, Workforce Solutions, Texas Association of Builders and other career-based entities to educate students on career options out there that best fit their skillsets and interests.

“I really want to reach high school kids, when they’re 15, 16, 17, and show them hope for their future and that there are these massive careers out there that they didn’t have any clue were there,” Spence said. “Because America promises if you’re willing to work hard and take responsibility, you should be able to make it.”

Data from the Education Data Initiative reported that 45.3 million people have student loan debt in the United States, as of 2020. In order to obtain a Bachelor’s degree, the report found the average student acrues at least $30,000 in student loan debt.

Despite high student loan debt for college graduates, there still exists major discrepancies in salary attainment for students lacking trade certification or a college degree. E3 Alliance data from 2018 reported 12% of Central Texas with only a high school diploma or classified as living below the poverty line, compared to 4% of those with a Bachelor’s degree.

“I think it’s really important to show these different options that can be a career, because it can show you don’t have to dedicate years and years to a degree and you can get a well paying job.”

adrian heston, make it movement user

For Spence, his goal with the Make It Movement is to help rewrite the narrative on what educational tools are needed to secure a quality career. Not everyone is interested in or financially able to attend college, he said; however, high skill trade professions are in high demand and often come with higher wages.

“All of a sudden, young people are motivated to learn more, because they can make more,” he said.

The Make It Movement curates quizzes that assess a person’s aptitudes and interests in a variety of fields before recommending specific career options or programs available in their area. Partnering with Austin Community College, Workforce Solutions Capital Area and Skill Alliance, students are connected to program offerings, related costs and certification requirements needed for that specific career choice.

Nidia Heston and her son, Adrian, utilized the Make It Movement to help explore post-secondary career options for him. For Adrian, who has a disability, Nidia said college isn’t no longer an option, but it’s beneficial to learn a wider range of careers that can be tailored to his interests and skillsets.

Adrian said that for him, he was drawn to sterile processing as a career path, which focuses on sterilizing medical procedures within a hospital’s surgical room. This spring, he’ll complete a weeks-long program through Austin Community College to become certified before pursuing a job in the field.

“All the machinery that’s used to sterilize everything, it’s very interesting,” he said. “The process about it and the paperwork that goes into it.”

While furthering one’s education is important, Adrian said not everyone is comfortable in a higher learning environment or have access to the necessary funds needed for a degree. But that doesn’t hinder someone from achieving a high quality job, he added.

“I think it’s really important to show these different options that can be a career, because it can show you don’t have to dedicate years and years to a degree and you can get a well paying job,” he said.

While beginning in the Central Texas region, Spence said his goal is to expand this initiative on a national scale to connect more young students, or adults considering a new career path, with nearby resources.

As he looks to grow the nonprofit, Spence said he wants to create an alliance with major national employers, higher learning and trade centers and other organizations to thread together resources from each entity in one singular place.

For now, Spence said the nonprofit is working to create virtual and physical Make It Movement Centers that consolidate resources from community partners, so finding a potential career option is as simple as the push of a button.

“Aristotle said, ‘Where your talents and the needs of the world intersect, therein lies your purpose,’” Spence said. “Let’s all keep learning. And if that happens, we might leave this place better than we found it.”

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