TFS Results is proud to present a case study on the success of our Career Tree client, Oakland Schools ISD, located in Waterford, MI. The Career Trees are utilized at the four Technical Campuses in the county: Northeast in Pontiac, MI; Northwest in Clarkston, MI; Southeast in Royal Oak, MI; and Southwest in Wixom, MI. Since implementing the Career Tree in 2014, OSTC has experienced:

OSTC Oakland Schools Technical Campus - Career Tree Case Study
  • Effective career exploration for all OSTC students
  • Broadened horizons for students who had not previously considered further education
  • Seamless compliance with the Michigan Career Development Model legislation
  • Deeper conversations with students, parents, legislators, and stakeholders
  • Enhanced relationships with business and industry partners
  • Increasingly positive internal morale

Using Career Trees from the beginning

“We were early adopters of the Career Tree, introducing it during the 2014–15 school year,” says Northeast Campus Dean Paul Galbenski. Staff members collaborated to create Interactive Wall Graphics for each of the ISD’s 19 career-technical programs.

The Career Tree is used at the district’s four technical campuses, which serve approximately 2,700 juniors and seniors, and is utilized in varying levels for the different programs. Though in place at OSTC since 2014, the Career Tree has become most effective during the past three years when English Instructor Christina Lang became the point person. “Before Christina took the reins, we were using the Career Tree, having students put their names and career goals on the classroom Wall Graphics, but there was a lack of consistency. Some programs used the Tree more than others, often it was not revisited once the Career Leaves were up—we just knew there was more we could do,” says Galbenski.

All that changed when Lang came on board and saw the yet-untapped potential of the Career Tree. She developed a Google Classroom template first for the entire Northeast campus, and then eventually for each individual program. Each program’s Google Classroom contains all student assignments, along with any additional resources the teacher includes, such as the Career Tree student launch video, career exploration websites for research purposes, and other tools.

Setting their sights higher

During their first year using the Career Tree, OSTC students complete the Career Tree worksheets and use that material as pre-writing for an essay discussing their career aspirations. In some classrooms, students then present their essays in class, which both hones their public speaking skills and exposes other students to what they are learning.

In their second year, seniors are required to prepare their resumes and write a portfolio letter of introduction/cover letter—further honing their career goals and how they plan to reach them through further education and work experience. The portfolio rubric includes areas such as letters of reference, credentials/certifications, student evaluation by an industry partner, and others.

One of the challenges that students often face in career exploration is self-imposed limitations. Lang says, “I work with many students who have already decided they can’t or won’t go to college. But once we talk about their lifestyle goals and they see the level of career and education it will take to realize those dreams, suddenly college becomes possible. They say, “Oh, I can do this” and start working toward that goal.” The Career Tree empowers OSTC students to set their sights higher.

Seamlessly complying with new legislation

On December 24, 2018, new career readiness legislation went into effect for the state of Michigan. Among other things, the Michigan Career Development Model requires schools to:

  • Provide career development education at least once in elementary, middle, and high school
  • Revise EDPs annually in grades 8–12
  • Afford students the opportunity to develop talent portfolios
  • Give students the opportunity to participate in work-based learning and connect with experts in a variety of fields
  • Provide high school students with several specific pieces of information on various careers, including current and projected job opportunities and wage information
  • Equip senior students to create a resume, request both a letter of recommendation and their academic record, and know how to use a talent portfolio

Thanks to the Career Tree, OSTC was in compliance with the new legislation on the day it became law.

Deepening the conversation

As a visual story, the Career Tree invites deeper conversations with students, parents, legislators, stakeholders, and others in the community. “When I bring a group of legislators or stakeholders through our buildings, they see the Career Tree in every classroom. It leads to a great conversation about the depth of career exploration that every student experiences here,” says Galbenski.

The Career Tree both simplifies and expands the organization’s narrative, as individuals see the value of academic, technical, and professional skills across a variety of career fields. Galbenski says, “There is consistency to how we are preparing students for their future, no matter what program they’re part of.”

Strengthening partnerships with business and industry

When the Career Tree launched in 2014, OSTC’s work-based learning coordinators were quick to see the value of the tool. This led to the creation of OSTC’s School-to-Career Partnerships Wall Graphic, which recognizes students who are currently participating in a work-based learning experience. These students write their names and place of employment on Career Leaves that are publicly displayed on the School-to-Career Partnerships Wall Graphic.

“I’ve seen both students and our partnering companies look for their name on this Wall Graphic,” says Lang. “It creates a sense of pride and celebrates what these students are achieving.”

Moving forward together

OSTC has advanced from an organization that merely had Career Trees to an organization that uses the Career Tree to laser-focus students on their future careers. The result? Increasingly positive internal morale, as every member of the organization pulls together to deliver the Career Tree advantage to every student.

We want to thank Dean Paul Galbenski and instructor Christina Lang for sharing their Career Tree experience and best practices. OSTC is pioneering a fresh approach to career exploration, and we applaud the positive difference they are making in the lives of students.

About Mark C. Perna and TFS Results
TFS Results, whose mission is to share and support its clients’ passion for making a difference, is a full-service strategic consulting firm founded by national workforce development expert Mark C. Perna. Mark, a noted author on the millennial and Z generations, has devoted his career to education and workforce training. At TFS Results, Mark heads an energetic team of talented professionals who share his vision of making a bigger difference, working with educators and employers of all sizes nationwide to deliver significant gains in recruitment, retention, and performance rates.

About Oakland Schools Technical Campuses
Oakland Schools Technical Campuses (OSTC) is the career and technical education branch of Oakland Schools Intermediate School District. With four campuses serving 2,700 juniors and seniors in the Oakland County area, OSTC is dedicated to helping students explore their direction, experience amazing opportunities, and prepare to excel in the real world.