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Roadtrip Nation Seeks New Pathways to Economic Advancement

Roadtrip Nation Cofounder and President Mike Marriner, interviewed by JFF

The theme of this year’s Jobs for the Future Horizons summit is “See Beyond.” All of the conversations and activities that take place June 7-8 in New Orleans will explore how leaders from across the learn and work ecosystem can build successful, future-forward education and workforce systems.

Career exploration nonprofit Roadtrip Nation will lead one of those conversations: a panel discussion called “How We Can All Find Our Place in the Future of Skilled Work,” in which participants will share insights about innovative ways to help people identify the training and educational paths that work best for them—whether they involve four-year degrees or not—so they can start building the skills they need to succeed in the future of work. The conversation will emphasize the dignity of work and the important contributions that “makers and fixers” and others in skilled trades and related industries make to our workforce, communities, and country.

JFF recently spoke with Roadtrip Nation Cofounder and President Mike Marriner to find out what “See Beyond” means to him and learn how his organization is working to help people navigate their education and career paths.

Can you give us some background on Roadtrip Nation and how you entered the sphere of helping people navigate the future of skilled work?

Roadtrip Nation was started in 2001 by me and my two cofounders, Brian McAllister and Nathan Gebhard. We were just a group of friends about to enter the “real world” of work—and none of us had any clue what we wanted to do with our lives. So we hit the road in this big, bright green RV, to travel the country and learn about all the different paths and careers that were out there.

All three of us had taken the really traditional four-year university route, but when we got out on the road, we realized that the people we were meeting had taken all sorts of educational paths to reach careers that were rewarding to them—from the business owners we interviewed to the auto technicians who worked on our RV when it broke down. It opened our eyes to the fact that there’s no one “right” path—but there is a path that’s going to work for everyone. Now, all these years later, we’re still working to provide learners with experiences that show them there are so many more educational pathways than they think—and of course, that includes skilled pathways.

How do you think Roadtrip Nation’s perspective on skilled pathways has evolved over the past 20 years?

Here at Roadtrip Nation, we don’t want to tell anyone that one path is better than another—but we do want to give them more exposure to all the paths that are possible for their education beyond high school, and help them navigate how to find the path that’s best for them.

With college tuition costs rising and remote learning coming into play over the past few years, a lot more young adults are wondering, Is college still worth it? So it feels like there’s an increased focus on finding what else is out there—and skilled pathways are something that deserves that focus.

How is Roadtrip Nation working to broaden the conversation around education and career pathways?

One of the biggest hurdles we’re finding is that the conversation in high schools across the country is still very much centered around college. We’re definitely not trying to dissuade anyone from going to college, but we are trying to broaden that conversation, and make sure it includes options like workforce development programs, certifications, and apprenticeships—the kinds of paths that we’ve seen can lead you directly into skilled work.

At Roadtrip, we’re big believers in showing rather than telling—so we go out and capture stories with real people who show what these paths truly look like for our award-winning public television series. We also feature those interviews throughout our suite of career exploration tools, from videos to online courses. Through these career stories, we get to show learners all of the options that are out there, help them see what they can be, and let them try on different pathways in order to decide what might be best for them.

Why do you feel like it’s so important to increase peoples’ exposure to different career and education paths?

We know from independent, third-party studies of our programs that getting young people thinking about their future careers can lead to better education and career outcomes. That seems obvious, right? But when we say “thinking about future careers,” we don’t mean just picking one career and planning toward it from a young age. It’s more about getting young people to better understand all of the different factors that go into obtaining an education and building a career.

When we give young people a more thorough look at what different careers are like from day to day, they start understanding that it’s not just the information you learn in school that’s going to get you to the career you want. It’s building your technical skills, building social and emotional skills, getting hands-on training, making connections, and networking and increasing your social capital—all of those kinds of skills and experiences have to work together to pave the way to career success.

If educators or youth-serving organizations out there want to help people get more exposure to different skilled pathways, what do you recommend they do?

We recently released a documentary called “Skill Shift” that’s streaming for free on our website right now. Fueled by Jobs for the Future, and with contributions from Snap-on, it follows four people who hit the road to explore the skilled jobs of the future and get insights into the kinds of education and training that can set us all up for success in the rapidly changing world of work.

“Skill Shift” is also currently broadcasting nationally on public television, so check out your local PBS station listings for air times.

As Roadtrip Nation was making this documentary, were there any surprising takeaways about skilled pathways and the future of work that really stuck out to you?

Right now, a lot of people are looking for work that’s centered around a cause they care about. So one maybe-surprising theme you’ll see throughout “Skill Shift” is that skilled jobs are the backbone of some of the most impactful industries right now, from medicine to green energy and sustainable farming.

And you don’t have to take out loans and pay a bunch of money to enter that field and make that impact. So many people we talked to utilized workforce development programs, apprenticeships, and courses through their local community colleges. And I think even they were surprised at how reasonable the time and money commitment can be—especially compared to the huge payoff of finding more job security and getting to that next level on your career path.

Finally, what does “See Beyond” mean to you?

I think there’s a lot of doom and gloom out there about the future of work. Will our jobs get automated? Will people get left behind? But what “Skill Shift” has really showed me is that no matter what career you’re in, no matter what age you are, there are accessible ways for you to build up your skills, and find stability in a career you really care about. You just have to see beyond that noise and start exploring which paths might be right for you.

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