A conversation with Kim Shaw fits the phrase “a breath of fresh air.” She laughs while she talks. You can hear her smile through the phone. She’s full of positivity. Maybe that’s one of the reasons why she’s so successful in customer service and helping others.
Kim’s Career Path
Until recently, Shaw worked for a nonprofit organization called Richmond Community Support Center, a contractor for Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) in North Carolina. She describes the WIOA as place that helps people “gain the skills needed to secure employment based on eligibility yet suitability.” She began her time there as a customer service representative. She was part of the “Welcome Team” and saw every person who was in need of their services, which include resume writing, access to labor market data and information about job openings.
“I served as the gatekeeper to let job seekers know what types of services were available to them,” Shaw explains. “I’d walk them through everything and get them registered and explain the different programs to them.”
Shaw’s supervisor quickly recognized her skills and abilities and saw an opportunity through organizational restructuring to move Shaw into a case manager position after less than one year on the job.
“I was eager to learn and take on new responsibilities,” Shaw says. “My supervisor felt that it was just better for me to be placed in the case manager position because I had that particular background working with job seekers who had barriers to employment. I definitely fell into that category from previous things that occurred in my past that left me with little training or lack of post-secondary credentials to see a real future for myself with a company. I knew what I was getting myself into. I knew the challenges I would encounter.”
Shaw says that the transition to case manager was an easy one because she knew what the expectations and responsibilities were, though it was a different group of clients. Shaw had previously worked with adults, but she began working with youth in her new role as a case manager.
“It gave me a different perspective on how to work with Millennials and address the different barriers that they have,” she says.
After working as a case manager for about nine months, Shaw got an opportunity to advance yet again. She now serves as a career advisor for the North Carolina Department of Commerce, where she continues to help people find work. In this new role, Shaw also helps match employers to job candidates.
“My main focus is tying people to jobs. Looking at their talents, their skills, their abilities, and giving the employer the best qualified job seeker for that particular position,” she explains.
Barriers to Work in Rural America
Shaw grew up in North Carolina and still lives and works there today. She’s lived there her whole life. She calls it “rural America.” She says she experienced some barriers to employment earlier in her career, and now she’s working to help others in similar situations.
“For our job seekers, we provide resume assistance, workshops, labor market information, and referrals to support services such as to childcare, food, housing, counseling partner agencies,” she says. “We give them the services they need so they can overcome their barriers so they can align themselves accordingly to return to the workforce.”
Shaw has a successful and still-growing career in workforce development. She’s also nurturing that career with the help of the LSU online Master of Science in human resource education with a concentration in workforce development program.
Shaw completed her bachelor’s degree, a hybrid program consisting of both online and on-campus coursework, in 2015. After graduation, her three sons, aged 10, 12 and 17, thought she was done with school, but she always knew that she would pursue a master’s degree.
“They’ve always encouraged me to do my best. It’s just rewarding to be able to work towards this goal that I wanted for myself. Ever since I was in high school, I knew that I wanted to go to school,” Shaw says.
The decision to keep going after earning a bachelor’s degree was easy for the working mother of three.
“Over the course of my career, I’ve had pretty good jobs, but I’ve always felt that my education was something that I could definitely rely on for possible advancement within the sectors that I chose to work in. It’s just a staple for me to have a higher education. I do value that, and I’m setting a good example for my children, too,” she explains.
Shaw is right to value higher education. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that the unemployment rate for those with a master’s degree is 2.4 percent and the average weekly earnings are $1,341 compared to bachelor’s-degree-holding workers at 2.8 percent and $1,137 respectively. According to Census Bureau estimates from 2014, only 9.5 percent of the North Carolina population have a graduate degree. When Shaw completes her master’s degree in December, she’ll become part of that elite group.
As a native North Carolinian, Shaw initially considered and researched local colleges for her master’s degree but chose LSU because it offered her everything she needed along with a strong reputation.
“Based on the prerequisites and everything, I felt like Louisiana State had what I wanted. It was online, there was no thesis involved, so that told me that’s where I needed to be. So I applied and went there,” she explains.
In the spring, Shaw attended the LSU Workforce Development Summer Fellowship Program in Baton Rouge. Through that program, she was able to meet some of her classmates and professors, share ideas and learn from others. It was one of the many things that she has enjoyed about the online program.
One of the courses she enjoyed was “Principles of Adult Education,” which teaches students about the various factors that affect adult motivation and learning.
“I found it really interesting because there are so many components that go with adult education and how we learn and interpret things. We have so many past experiences that contribute to that. Some of the questions and the assignments have been really worthwhile,” she says of the class.
While some online students worry about how much interaction they will have with faculty and other students, Shaw had a very positive experience in this area.
“There was a lot of group interaction. I didn’t have a lot of group interaction through my undergrad. There were some times that we had group exercises in my bachelor’s program, but this was really a lot more in-depth, and I really enjoyed that. It’s allowed me to use my customer service skills and certain ideas, beliefs and values,” she explains. “My instructors have given me a lot of positive feedback from my participation.”
Many graduate students go back to school for the sense of accomplishment and personal pride that comes with completing an advanced degree program. Shaw has that same sense of pride for her progress as well.
She says, “Some of the coursework has been very rigorous and very challenging. Overall, I’ve done it, and I’m proud of myself for doing it. It’s a pat on the back for me, and it’s an example for my kids to follow. I’m a minority, so I say if I can do it, it’s possible for anybody. Everything I’ve encountered up until now has gotten me to the self-actualization process. I’m at my fullest potential, and I really believe that once you build a strong baseline, a strong foundation, the rewards are endless. I’m very thankful. I’m in the profession that I’ve always dreamt about. I’m really enjoying my career path. I took several paths, but I found my niche, and that’s what is most rewarding.”
Learn more about the LSU online MS in HRE with a Concentration in Workforce Development program.
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