Inspire Madison Area gives students experiential learning opportunities like job shadowing and the chance to talk to "career coaches" in fields of interest. 

A new program to Lodi and Poynette School Districts enlists local businesses to help students envision their futures.

“It’s a real perspective on jobs in Wisconsin,” said Todd Anderson, a counselor at Poynette High School.

Through the Inspire Madison Area program, students can explore future careers by connecting with career counselors or find experiential learning opportunities such as job shadowing, tours and internships.

So far, 43 school districts in the Madison area have registered for the initiative -- including both the Lodi and Poynette School districts -- and 212 employers have offered to participate.

Inspire Madison Region is a supplement to Career Cruising, which is the career exploration software program the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction has made available to all public school districts in the state.

Beginning in fall of 2017, a state statute mandates that all sixth through 12th graders must receive academic and career planning. The Career Cruising software has resources to build a portfolio and explore different career paths, according to the DPI’s website.

“But where it’s lacking is connecting students to experiential learning opportunities,” said Gene Dalhoff, the Inspire Madison Region manager and the Vice President of Talent and Education for the Madison Region Economic Partnership (MadREP).

And so, Inspire Madison Region picks up there.

The Inspire license for the current year was funded through a grant from the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation, and the initiative is spearheaded by MadREP.

Students explore

Before Inspire, Anderson said students often learned about potential careers secondhand -- through their own research, or talking to instructors who had researched the career themselves.

“This is a great program in that it’s connecting the actual employers with the students,” said Anderson. For instance, if a student has a question about going into nursing, they can get in direct contact with a healthcare company -- “and they’re obviously going to provide a much better answer”, he said.

Anderson said the school district has long focused on giving students skills to explore their futures.

“That’s really what we’re trying to emphasize at this point,” he said. “It’s not that you make the decision, but it’s the process of getting there.”

Good for business

The Inspire Madison Region program was partly founded because of local businesses’ desire to recruit future employees, Dalhoff said.

“We’ve heard from companies that are concerned about the future of their workforce right now,” he said. “They are having difficulty finding enough employees and down the road, they’re going to have more difficulties. So they’re interested in building a worker pipeline.”

Businesses choose what they offer to Inspire, Dalhoff said. They can simply appoint “career coaches” to field questions from students about the business. Or, they can go further and offer job shadowing, tours, apprenticeships and internships.

Dalhoff said participants can be contacted by any student in the Madison area. Employers designate career coaches to answer student questions.

“It doesn’t matter if that career coach is five miles down the road or 100 miles down the road,” said Dalhoff.

Still, he encourages businesses to get involved to benefit local students. Ideally, Dalhoff said students should have the chance to job shadow and work with businesses in their own communities.

“When it comes to onsite learning opportunities,” he said, “the more local, the better.”

To learn more, or to participate in Inspire Madison Region as an employer, visit

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