Future Leaders

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High schoolers approaching graduation are faced with the daunting task of choosing a career path. But what if you could take intimidation out of the equation?

What would you give to go back in time and give your career a test run? Would your decision have changed or your excitement piqued if you had gotten a sneak peek of what was to come? That’s exactly what the Greater Ozarks Centers for Advanced Professional Studies (GO CAPS) program aims to do by exposing high school students to prospective career paths.


“At the heart of it, it’s a career exploration program,” says Kristen Mills, medicine and health care instructor for GO CAPS Branson. High school juniors and seniors learn about industries called strands—by working with local partner businesses. Strands are determined by labor data indicating high-need industries with strong future job potential. Currently, GO CAPS offers strands in medicine and health care, business and entrepreneurship, IT and software solutions, engineering and manufacturing, and teacher education.

GO CAPS came to Springfield in fall 2015, and the program expanded to Branson two years later with the medicine and health care strand. “The Branson community has been supportive of the CAPS program from the very beginning and active in the growth of our partnership,” says Lindsay Haymes, former executive director of GO CAPS and vice president of workforce development with the Springfield Chamber of Commerce. More than 25 organizations in Branson partner with GO CAPS, including CoxHealth, Silver Dollar City, Big Cedar Lodge and Mercy. These organizations open their doors for student tours, job shadowing opportunities and mentorship.


Although they’re still learning on the job, the students offer a fresh perspective, which enables them to solve longstanding puzzles. Haymes relayed feedback from Scott Rogers, system Students participating in the GO CAPS program learn about industries predicted to have strong future job potential before graduating high school. High schoolers approaching graduation are faced with the daunting task of choosing a career path. But what if you could take intimidation out of the equation? The GO CAPS program aims to ease students into prospective career paths so they’re better equipped for their future. “He said the great thing about students is that they don’t come with all the preconceived notions of why things aren’t going to work,” she says.

In turn, students are getting real-world experience while providing potential workplace solutions. Part of what enables students to think nontraditionally is the program’s structure. Students meet daily for an academic year—for GO CAPS Branson students, that’s in a classroom hosted by CoxHealth—but the rest of the program varies. Students tour businesses, shadow professionals, hear from guest lecturers and instructors, learn soft skills—think resume building and elevator pitch crafting—and tackle business projects through a research capstone project.


The results of the program speak for themselves. Because students are immersed within their respective strands, “their networking is phenomenal,” Mills says. According to Haymes, CoxHealth has hired nearly 20 GO CAPS students while they’re still in high school, and Mills notes that those continuing their education are above the competition because of their hands-on shadowing and training opportunities. Not only does the program add an impressive mark on resumes, but Mills says, parents should note the value of opportunities for personal development. “It’s asking their child to really stretch, to step out of their typical high school role into a professional role,” she says. “That’s hard, but if students come with a willingness to try and a commitment to put their best effort into this, they are going to grow by leaps and bounds.”