News | September 23, 2021

Career Exploration Program Taps Virtual Reality To Connect West Alabama High School Students To Career Pathways

TUSCALOOSA, ALA.--(BUSINESS WIRE)--

West Alabama Works (WAW), a nonprofit network of workforce development providers serving working adults and youth in a nine-county region of West Alabama, today announced initial results from a new virtual reality partnership designed to help high school students explore a range of career and technical education (CTE) options. Through a partnership with immersive learning startup TRANSFR, the program has connected more than 1,100 local high school students to career pathways through hands-on career exploration simulations that offer real-world experience in a variety of fast-growing jobs and industries.

“There are tens of thousands of jobs in Alabama waiting to be filled that offer pathways to well-paying, stable careers, but students often lack awareness about the wide range of career options available to them that don’t require a traditional four-year degree,” said Donny Jones, Executive Director of West Alabama Works. “By harnessing the power of virtual reality, this innovative approach to career exploration brings to life the dynamic career opportunities that local employers have to offer, vividly recreating the world of work in ways that students rarely experience.”

According to U.S. Census Bureau Data, an estimated 84,000 Alabama youth ages 16-24 are not attending school or working, which suggests an unmet need for programs that support the critical transition from high school to the workforce. The new program helps foster connections between local high school students and career opportunities in West Alabama by integrating TRANSFR’s VR-based simulations with West Alabama Works’ popular “Worlds of Work'' career exploration events.

The immersive career exploration offers an interactive and engaging new way for students to explore careers in a variety of industries. Through the simulations, students receive a hands-on, real-world view of a variety of workplace settings in industries ranging from manufacturing, architecture and construction, transportation and logistics to hospitality and tourism.

Data collected by West Alabama Works suggests that initial results from the new program are promising. Between April-May 2021, more than 1,100 9th grade students in West Alabama high schools used the virtual reality curriculum to explore new career paths. In addition, career and technical education enrollment increased by 18% at participating high schools compared to the 2018/2019 school year.

After students complete the Career Exploration simulations, high school guidance counselors work with each student to enroll in CTE programs, putting more students on a path to gain the skills and credentials needed to land to a well-paying job after graduation.

“West Alabama Works is an innovator leading the way to enable students to explore career options and also connect them to local employers who need skilled workers,” said Bharani Rajakumar, founder and CEO of TRANSFR. “This work is about building a classroom-to-career pathway that can not only help learners achieve their potential in a fast-changing economy, but also sustain a more inclusive regional workforce.”

Building on the program’s initial success, West Alabama Works has plans to expand the partnership to reach even more students through public events and programming at local schools. In October, more than 5,000 students are expected to experience the simulations at the upcoming Worlds of Work Expo, which invites every 8th grade student in the region to explore careers and meet with local employers.

About West Alabama Works: West Alabama Works is a network of interconnected providers of workforce services, including all of the governmental, educational, and private sector components that train, prepare, and match job seekers with employers. We serve 9 counties in West Alabama, including Bibb, Fayette, Greene, Hale, Lamar, Marengo, Pickens, Sumter, and Tuscaloosa.

About TRANSFR: TRANSFR is a workforce development platform that uses simulation-based training to give students and job-seekers the hands-on skills they need to get well-paying jobs. Together with community leaders, workforce development organizations, educational institutions, and business and industry, we are building a classroom-to-career pipeline to raise up people, the organizations where they learn and work, and the communities that they call home.

TRANSFR’s hands-on simulations provide an immersive learning environment that gives students and job seekers the real-world experience they need to choose a career path and then get trained to perform it. Guided by a digital coach, they receive expert, personal instruction that introduces them to different careers, teaches them how to perform essential tasks, gives feedback based on their specific actions, and assesses progress toward mastery of skills in real time. Those who have partnered with TRANSFR have used the training to help job seekers understand their career options, develop more skilled workers, place more people in jobs, and see improved job retention rates. For more information, visit transfrvr.com.

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