“At first ... I didn't think I was smart enough, that I didn’t have the brains for it, but ... now I think I could do anything when I put my mind to it.” -- Arina, 16, a junior at East High School in Des Moines.

Arina is one of 30 students participating in this summer’s Career Pathways program at the Boys and Girls Club of Central Iowa.

The program is designed with a two-pronged approach in mind. First, it gives students, who may not otherwise have the opportunity, exposure to various career paths at an early age to help them see what kinds of jobs they may like and what career they might be best suited for. Second, the program helps employers plant the seed and begin developing the next generation of employees early on to fill jobs that are in demand.

This summer’s program is focused on manufacturing and construction, with classes scheduled on alternating days of the week. As this year’s program enters its final weeks, students are busy building a shed to store athletic equipment and making a bench for Blank Park Zoo.

Other experiences, including in health care, are provided during the school year.

Students may do site visits and tour employers. They may listen to speakers. They may get hands-on experiences. And they get to ask questions and seek answers from people who work directly in those fields.

“I like how it has given me experiences for life,” said Arina, whose last name is withheld for privacy reasons. “Without the Boys and Girls Club, I really don’t know where I would be right now.”

Arina, who simply refers to the Boys and Girls Club as “the Club,” said the opportunities she’s been afforded through the Career Pathways program have given her the confidence she needs as she pursues a career in medicine. Arina wants to be a physician and is beginning to look at colleges. While she is open to the possibilities, she is leaning toward attending the University of Northern Iowa.

The Career Pathways program “has helped me so I wont’ be so indecisive,” Arina said. “I know what I want to do, so all I have to do is prepare for the classes I want to take in college. I won’t be so unsure.”

Ariel Dupey is the coordinator for the program, which is primarily funded through the state’s Future Ready Iowa program. She said students are exposed to jobs in each career path and also learn how to be professional, how to greet someone and how to build a resume.

“I tell the kids all the time that they represent themselves in the world, so they are learning how to do that in a professional setting as well,” Dupey said. “We want them to graduate high school with a plan, whether it be trade school, a job or college.”

The program is run out of the Boys and Girls Club of Central Iowa facility on Walker Street, near East High School. Dupey, who graduated from East in 2011, said offering programs like Career Pathways is especially important in neighborhoods like those surrounding the school where she says students may not have the same opportunities as their peers in suburban districts.

“Having this program in this neighborhood shows that every child has the potential for amazing growth in a professional career, and our job is to help them get there,” she said. “Unfortunately, in lower socioeconomic neighborhoods there tends to be higher crime rates, so kids are more likely to get involved in behavior that isn’t good for them. If they have something else to focus on and be exposed to, the less likely they are going to be exposed to things that will get them into trouble.

“When I grew up, this area had a really bad reputation, but the pride here and how much we love our community and how it’s such a beautiful and diverse community, we want to showcase that,” Dupey said. “These kids are some of the best kids in Iowa.”

Leaders of two businesses that are participating in the Career Pathways program say they see it as a tool to start developing the talent pipeline in Iowa at an early age.

“We definitely have a huge shortage of workers in our industry, and we have a whole generation of workers who are set to retire shortly from the baby boomers generation, so you’re losing all those people and we didn’t do a great job of recruiting those future generations,” said Brandon Patterson of the Home Builders Association of Greater Des Moines. “We have an immediate need but we’re also going to have to fix some of the issues we’ve had with recruitment and retention with our younger, future generation that is coming in.”


There are currently about 20,000 jobs open in the construction industry in Iowa, with about 10,000 of those openings being in the Des Moines metro area.

Aaron Johnson, vice president of marketing and customer strategy at Accumold in Ankeny, said it’s important for businesses to partner with programs like Career Pathways and the K-12 school systems to engage students in possible career paths moving forward.

“I think it takes companies like Accumold to partner with those resources in the community to share what those look like,” he said. “It’s one thing to say you can go to a community college and get a tech degree, but what does that actually mean? The opportunities we take at Accumold help to connect those dots, that there’s well-paying, fantastic jobs in robotics and tool and die and plastic processing, and not all of them require a four-year degree.”

Accumold is a high-precision micro-injection molder that makes small plastic components for applications in the medical industry, for electronics such as sensors or micro-optics, among others.

“We take the opportunities we can to share what we do at Accumold and perhaps inspire young people to go into engineering or tool and die,” Anderson said. “It’s a little bit of just being a part of our community and a little workforce development.”

For Arina, the East High School student, participating in the program is about securing a brighter future.

“Before I started coming here, I didn’t think I was intelligent, I just thought I was dumb. … I didn’t believe in myself at all. I thought I couldn’t make it in this world,” she said. “The staff here encouraged me. They started helping me. I started getting better grades, too. They’re setting me up for success.”

Watch a short video of Arina talking about the confidence she’s developed by participating in the Career Pathways program.

Top photo: Arina, a 16-year-old junior at East High School, is participating in this summer’s Career Pathways program at the Boys and Girls Club of Central Iowa, and says it has helped her gain the confidence she needs to pursue a career in medicine.

Bottom photo: Students build a shed for athletic equipment storage as part of their participation in the construction section of the Career Pathways Program at the Boys and Girls Club of Central Iowa. Photos by Michael Crumb