Program Helps Community, Businesses and Students
NCAP

The Northland Center for Advanced Professional Studies (CAPS) has helped area high school students gain professional, innovative educational experiences for over 10 years. While the high schools and up to 400 juniors and seniors each year are key, what makes the program work are participating businesses. 

These businesses take many forms, from major corporations to sole proprietorships. One thing they have in common is a desire to “pay it forward,” but that’s not all.

Unique Education

Tracy Spisak is one of Northland CAPS’ smaller business partners. Owner and photographer of Gallery Portraiture, she recently worked with one of CAPS’ six strands, Global Business and Logistics. Her presentation focused on branding and marketing, but like so much with CAPS, it involved more.

“CAPS is great,” she said. “I love the hands-on learning with it. It’s a really unique opportunity. It’s the kind of education you can’t teach in a classroom.”

At the other end of the spectrum is North Kansas City Hospital, which recently celebrated its 10th year working with CAPS and up to 100 students each day. Not surprisingly, the students are in another strand, Medicine and Healthcare, but a key lesson involves the hundreds of jobs besides “just” doctors and nurses.

“The hospital is basically a city,” explains Michelle Lane, hospital director of Community Wellness and Corporate Health. “We need people with every skill imaginable.” That includes not only scores of medical professionals, but a nearly equal number of support services like accounting and IT. Even within medical fields like radiology, there are dozens of subfields – and showing students those hundreds of opportunities is how they learn what might best fit them.

Photographer and business owner Tracy Spisak recently provided insight into her work for a group of students in the Northland Center for Advanced Professional Studies (CAPS).

Real-World Learning

Sometimes there are more basic but equally important lessons. Many older residents may complain about young service or retail employees who don’t look customers in the eye or act like any additional requests are a personal affront. These and other “soft skills” are a major focus of all CAPS strands.

Lane at the hospital agrees and notes an effort that is typical of many CAPS programs. “Our CAPS students go through hospital orientation just like our employees would,” she said. “That introduces them to what it’s like in a real job and the requirements for being in a hospital.” Not surprisingly, even if they never work in a hospital, seeing those basic requirements is part of learning about the work world.

Even if this sounds great, some may be tempted to ask, “Why? Why go to the trouble of training young people who may or may not provide a long-term benefit for the organization?” One answer is this: As most in the economic development field know, workforce is a critical issue for companies looking to expand or locate in a new area. This is one reason why the EDC works with organizations like the Northland Education and Business Alliance (NEBA) and CAPS.

But it’s also great for the students. Both the photographer Spisak and the hospital’s Lane have children who were involved in CAPS. They’ve witnessed important advances through those children and by watching other CAPS graduates. 

“That interaction is important,” Spisak noted. “There are so many things to learn, and these experiences are often the best way to learn them.”

Lane agreed. “They may even learn things just hearing a conversation in an elevator,” she said. 

One of four groups of students working at North Kansas City Hospital through the Northland Center for Advanced Professional Studies (CAPS) recently celebrated the start of the hospital’s 10th year with the program.

Two-Way Street

The businesses often gain as well. Lane noted the hospital is in constant need of staff and CAPS can be an important recruiting tool. “It’s a great opportunity for us, too,” Lane added. “They get to learn, but we also get to test drive the students and learn their soft skills. It’s a win-win. It goes both ways.”

Spisak doesn’t have a fraction of the hospital’s staff to work with students, but she has personally hosted three interns as well as providing presentations and more. “Being a small business it’s a lot of work,” she explained. “But I love sharing my craft.”

Her “sharing” is a good example of how even a small business can provide invaluable insight to young people. For example, Spisak’s presentations on branding and marketing leverage her 30 years of experience and hard-won knowledge. She includes not just in the mechanics of cameras, but insight into how the brain works and the power of images.

Both women praise CAPS for how it works with businesses and note the program has other ways businesses can become involved, some semester-long investments and others with limited, even one-time interactions like mock job interviews.

“It’s set up like speed dating,” Lane said of the interviews. “That’s one way that businesses can help, and it’s so much fun.”

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