State Farm, BACC Partnership Helps Area Youth Gain Job Skills

 State Farm employees and program volunteers Tanya Waninger and Jen Tucker-Vinsel gave mock interviews Friday to BACC students at the State Farm Oakland Avenue Building in Bloomington. (Image credit: Breanna Grow)

State Farm employees and program volunteers Tanya Waninger and Jen Tucker-Vinsel gave mock interviews Friday to BACC students at the State Farm Oakland Avenue Building in Bloomington. (Image credit: Breanna Grow)

State Farm and the Bloomington Area Career Center (BACC) are partnering for the seventh year in a row next week to provide mock interviews for high school students.

Nearly 400 students will participate in the week-long program at the State Farm Oakland Avenue Building in Bloomington. The first session was held Friday, February 23, and the program runs Monday through Thursday next week.

BACC Student Services Coordinator Peggy Arbuckle said the idea was borne out of concerns from the BACC’s business partners that students lacked important “soft skills.”

“Even students just getting out of college don’t know how to sit down and have a conversation with people, look them in the eye and talk about their accomplishments and goals,” Arbuckle said.

The interviews are like a “test-drive” for students, with the chance to practice and get valuable feedback from volunteer interviewers.

This year 127 employees from State Farm and other area businesses volunteered to participate. Arbuckle said the program has added more students and volunteers every year.

“It’s exciting to see familiar faces coming back, with a lot of new ones too.”

The BACC currently serves students from 16 high schools across several Illinois counties. Students at the BACC take career-driven classes that aren’t offered at their high schools due to a lack of qualified instructors or expensive equipment.

BACC students can earn certifications that will allow them to enter their chosen fields right after graduation, as well as earn dual credit hours to put toward a college degree.

Normal Community High School junior Daniel Shaw is a first-year BACC student working toward his A+ certification as part of the center’s Computer Technology and Networking program. He participated in his first mock interview with the BACC Friday morning.

Shaw sat down for a 20-minute interview with State Farm employees and program volunteers Tanya Waninger and Jen Tucker-Vinsel. This is Waninger’s sixth year in the program and Tucker-Vinsel’s fourth.

The two volunteers asked Shaw a range of questions from his favorite school subjects to his strengths and weaknesses. During his turn to ask questions, Shaw wanted to know what qualities State Farm most values in its employees. Someday he wants to earn his master’s degree and be a top candidate for a major employer like State Farm.

Shaw said he was nervous at first, but felt more comfortable as the interview progressed. After the interview Waninger and Tucker-Vinsel offered resume tips to help Shaw stand out as a dedicated, bright student.

“The thing that’s unique with a mock interview is we can actually work with them during the interview,” said Tucker-Vinsel. Waninger agreed, “You don’t get that feedback with a real job interview. You’re just told, ‘Yes, you’ve got the job,’ or ‘No, you don’t.’”

Students aren’t the only ones who get to sharpen their skills during the program. Arbuckle said the experience helps volunteers work on their interviewing skills to make sure they’re asking prospective employees all the right questions.

Brad Hutchison works at Illinois State University in the Educational Administration & Foundations program, which educates current and future school administrators. The retired superintendent has volunteered for the program every year since its inception.

“It’s really great to invest in the future and to give our young people real-life applications so they can go out and be the best they can be when they look for that first job,” he said.

Hutchison said he enjoys the energy and enthusiasm students bring to the interviews. He often talks with them about researching prospective employers and the importance of having questions ready for their interviewers.

“Many times when we’re learning to interview we think it’s really just one-sided as the candidate, but you need to have a conversation with the employer too to see if it’s going to be a good match.”

Program Coordinator Ashley Morgan, a State Farm Bank Supervisor, said the interviews also help State Farm connect with the next generation of workforce talent.

“It’s a really unique experience for us at State Farm to get in touch with kids in our community.”

For more information about the program and the BACC, visit the center’s website.