When Lamont Brown was a kid, he loved building stuff. He played architect, and he enjoyed spending hours putting together Lego sets. Now, as a 16-year-old who just finished his junior year at John Marshall School of Engineering, he is eyeing a career in engineering and manufacturing.
This summer, he’ll complete an internship with the local manufacturing company Ironhawk Industries, an opportunity he landed through the new Planning and Career Exploration (PACE) program, which helps Cleveland students explore future careers.
The Cleveland Metropolitan School District (CMSD) officially kicked off PACE in November 2021, bringing a career-focused learning experience to students grades 6 through 12. The program involves in-school career planning, out-of-school internship and work experiences, and college and career advising. This month marks the close of the first full year of the program.
“It gets you thinking about your future”
Brown told Signal Cleveland that he has really appreciated the PACE programming, which he gets during his advisory period every Thursday. He said he now knows things like how to build a resume, how to make a personal budget, how to talk to potential employers, and how to network.
“It’s really efficient, and it’s not a big time commitment, but it’s very helpful and gets you thinking about your future,” he said about the PACE sessions.
“It’s easy and it’s fun,” he added.
At the suggestion of his PACE mentor, Brown applied to and completed an eight-month internship program with the local manufacturing consultant group and training center MAGNET. There, he received hands-on technical training in things such as welding and operating manufacturing equipment. His MAGNET mentors were impressed with his work this school year, and they connected Brown with Ironhawk for his summer internship.
His PACE classes gave him time to study area colleges and decide which is the best fit for him. Right now his top choice is Ohio State University’s Engineering and Manufacturing program.
A career-focused alternative
Planning for PACE began in 2019, around the same time the college scholarship program Say Yes Cleveland launched. While Say Yes focuses on getting Cleveland’s kids to college, PACE is described as a program that focuses on career as an end goal, connecting students with apprenticeships, technical certificate programs, and other opportunities to get real-life work experience.
From 2019 to the program’s launch, CMSD worked with the Cleveland Foundation to create a framework for career-based learning in the classroom and to build a network of Northeast Ohio employers seeking new talent.
What does PACE look like in the classroom?
At its heart, PACE is a collaboration between the school district, youth-focused organizations, and regional employers.
Mentors from a number of the youth-focused partners, which include Youth Opportunities Unlimited (Y.O.U.), College Now, Greater Cleveland Partnership and Ohio Means Jobs, come into classrooms weekly to teach students in grades 6 through 12 ways to think about life after high school. A full list of PACE partners is available on CMSD’s site.
Each school applies PACE programming a bit differently. Some schools dedicate an advisory period or study hall to college and career planning, while others carve out time from an existing class like English or Social Studies, said Molly Feghali, the senior leader of PACE, Training & Curriculum at Y.O.U.
According to the PACE outline, students in 6th and 7th grade learn skills such as basic networking. Mentors guide them through the process of identifying their passions, interests and learning styles. In 7th and 8th grade, students create basic career plans that align with their personal interests and start looking for high school specialty programs that work with those plans.
In high school, students learn how to navigate the job market in real time as they apply to internships, summer jobs, and college or vocational programs.
Brown shared his experience in an 11th grade PACE class.
“[A facilitator] comes in every Thursday and we talk about basically how to function in a job and how to look for a good job. We learn how to make a resume. We learn how to maintain good work/life balance and how to have a good attitude in the workplace,” he said.
Career exploration in action
PACE partners also provide resources for students and their parents to explore. This includes a list of career exploration resources and a career pathways guide that shows what credentials are required for different jobs. Y.O.U. offers internships for 10th, 11th, and 12th graders.
Brown said PACE helped him narrow his focus on a specific career. He used the resource guides to find job markets with the most room for growth, good pay, and a wide range of opportunities. One area that stood out to him was manufacturing–a field the resource guide videos say demand is growing exponentially.
Leah Epstein, the vice president of Engagement at MAGNET, where Brown completed his internship this year, told Signal Cleveland that the manufacturing industry in Northeast Ohio needs lots of new talent to fill job openings. She said it’s important to get youth interested in the field. Epstein said there’s a need for a variety of skills within the industry ranging from IT and marketing to engineering.
“[In partnering] with PACE, our goal is to bring 3,000 plus students into our facilities to teach them about manufacturing and make them aware of all the opportunities,” she said. “Students don’t really know about manufacturing at all.”
“He’s doing stuff I’ve never even heard of”
Brown hails from Cleveland’s Union-Miles neighborhood, and he’s the youngest of six kids, several of whom also attended CMSD.
His father, James Kendrick Brown, told Signal Cleveland that the whole family is “extremely proud of Lamont.”
“He’s doing stuff that I’ve never even heard of or seen done,” he said, adding that this is an opportunity his other kids didn’t have.
The senior Brown said the opportunities Lamont found through PACE have really helped him shine. He said he hears how happy his son is when he talks about the PACE mentors and the internship opportunities, and he believes the opportunities are exciting and motivating.
“I know he’s going to ace it because he’s into it. He’s got the drive to do what he wants to do in life,” he said.
The Greater Cleveland Career Consortium, the group of public and private organizations behind the creation of PACE and its network of employer partners, announced in December 2022 that PACE would expand to other school districts across Cuyahoga County starting in fall 2023.
The first group of schools that will have PACE programs this fall will include the Cleveland Heights/University Heights, East Cleveland, Garfield Heights, Maple Heights and Warrensville Heights school districts.
In fall of 2024, the program will expand to the Bedford, Brooklyn, Fairview Park, Richmond Heights and Shaker Heights school districts.