Wayde Sick, North Dakota State CTE Director, On Enhancing Career Exploration with VR/XR Technology

Tanya Sheckley: [00:00:00] Welcome to the EdTech Startup Showcase, an original series produced by the BE Podcast Network.

On this series, we spotlight and amplify some of the most innovative emerging companies in EdTech. We also have the opportunity to speak with a number of the educators who put those tools into action to support student success. I'm your host today, Tanya Sheckley. I also host the podcast Rebel Educator on the BE Podcast Network.

Reigniting wonder and re imagining the future of education are among the themes we explore on Rebel Educator, and I plan to bring those ideas to this series as well. Now, I'm pleased to introduce today's guest, Wayde Sick. Wayde is the State Director at the North Dakota Department of Career and Technical Education, which works to provide all North Dakota citizens with the technical skills, knowledge, and attitudes necessary for successful performance in a globally [00:01:00] competitive workplace.

Wayde, welcome to the show.

Wayde Sick: Thanks for having me, Tanya. I'm really excited about our conversation today.

Tanya Sheckley: Yeah, I think it'll be great. So for listeners, what we want to dig into is how we can use technology for career exploration, especially in support of giving people in more rural parts of, in this case, North Dakota, in parts of the country, more access to career exploration. And so the North Dakota Career and Technical Education strives to provide access and quality career technical education programs to all North Dakota students.

And so part of that is aligning with in demand occupations. So can you talk a little bit about, about what you do and the program and, and how to bring in, you know, how you're using technology to bring in some of the more in demand occupations?

Wayde Sick: Sure. if you've never been to North Dakota, we're a rural state. And, and you know, I think most states, a lot of states across the country are rural even in some of our populated, [00:02:00] they have rural spots. And what we strive for in North Dakota is trying to provide access to as many opportunities to our students as we possibly can.

When you go to rural North Dakota and you go to one of our small school districts, you typically see. three types of career and technical education programs. And we have phenomenal career and technical education programs across the state in all of our high schools. But you typically see, see agricultural education, family, consumer science, and business education.

Those are kind of the normal three, the big three. And again, they're phenomenal programs. But what happens if a student doesn't have an interest in one of those three? Typically students, they know what they know. And they go into careers of what, of what they know they've seen it, they witnessed it either through their parents or do those kinds of jobs or the people that they see in their community.

You see healthcare workers because you go to the doctor, you see teachers and educators because you go to the school. But you may not see. Cyber Security. You may not see Building Trades, [00:03:00] Construction. You may not see Auto Tech, because you're not the one that drops off the vehicle at that auto shop to get work done.

So what we try to do, is we try to provide as real life, experiences as possible utilizing technology. And, and we do that in a few different ways. One is, is just providing virtual current tech ed programs where students do the bulk of the learning through, through online or, or types of, of, of education like that.

With some hands on days mixed in. Another way that we do that is, is through virtual reality career exploration. You probably all think back you've been on a field trip and you jumped on the bus and you drove somewhere and you got to walk around and see what those people did, and you had a series of individuals, professionals that you talked to along the way.

Well, North Dakota is not only a rural state, it's a large geographic state. So, if you live in southeast North Dakota, and you have an interest to see what it, what the oil field in northwest North Dakota is [00:04:00] like, you got a four or five hour drive ahead of you on a bus. And, and that, that's, that's, that's a burden for a school district to send students on something like that.

So, what we're trying to do is we're trying to provide virtual reality experiences where a student can and either wear a headset, a set of goggles and have virtual reality and have a very realistic experience. Or if that's not accessible, you can watch that experience on any device and and see what What the day in the life for that time of time, a job is another example is, is healthcare is number one uh, job opening in the state of North Dakota are registered nurses and, and everybody has seen a nurse.

Everybody has seen the doctor, but what's, what do they actually do when they're not working with that patient directly and, and different regulations. may prohibit young people from coming in, going in to see what that kind of experience might be like. Virtual reality is a way that we can do that.

Tanya Sheckley: Yeah, definitely. And you brought up [00:05:00] a few good points. Like career awareness is definitely an important piece of that puzzle. The idea of you can't become what you don't see. And so how do we open up more experiences? in places where we don't see them every day. How do you even know what's available or, you know, what you might like to do if you've never had the opportunity to check that out?

And like you said, job shadows and field trips are a great way to do that, but they're super infrequent. And to your point, North Dakota is huge. So I, side story, I went to college in Minneapolis, in Minnesota, and I used to drive out to Montana to go skiing. And the majority of that drive. is through North Dakota.

So I can say there's nothing more beautiful than seeing the Badlands at sunrise. It's amazing. And also the state is huge. Going on a field trip from, like you said, from Southeast to Northwest, it just isn't feasible. Like you, you can't do a four hour drive, walk around for two hours and do a four hour drive back in a day for a field [00:06:00] trip.

So I love, I love the way that you're using technology to be able to scale career exploration, expand the number of jobs that they're aware of and. Create the availability of that possibility. I guess I'm curious if there's specific training initiatives that have been implemented. And how are you, like, how are you working with educators and with schools to get this information and this knowledge shared throughout the state?

Wayde Sick: Sure. So the virtual reality experiences that we provide through our CareerView XR that platform is embedded into our Are You Ready? ND platform. So Are You Ready? ND Is is an online career exploration platform that we have had in North Dakota for a number of years. The Department of Career and Technical Education pays for that.

Every student starting in the 7th grade is auto populated into the system and they can [00:07:00] start building their portfolio. They can start building their, their career exploration experiences. So through this platform and and like I said, it's available to every student 7th grade on up and it just made sense that since there's already an established platform, how can we simplify it and continue to improve the experience, improve the platform, and one of the ways we did that is that we have CareerView XR.

available through the Are You Ready ND platform. Student signs on through a single sign on and there you have it. You have access to the virtual reality. Now this was something that was very closely watched in during our last legislative session back in 2023 when we received some funding to implement this into the Are You Ready ND platform.

So a lot of educators were waiting for it. for that to happen. And then once it happened and it was implemented into the system. The next step, or actually all along the [00:08:00] way, but the next step was really allowing every educator, every counselor, be aware that that platform is available and how it works and slowly but surely we're making, we're making headways on getting that used as much as we possibly can.

Tanya Sheckley: Yeah, that is such an interesting piece of legislation. So the, the concept of VR for career exploration was brought to the state legislator, legislature, received unanimous approval in the Senate, near unanimous approval in the House. And the funding and the initiative covered all public, private, and homeschool students, like the scope of that and the ability to cover pretty much all students, like, I think is fascinating from a watching what's happening in alternative education and education in, in states across the country and really incredible that it received such great support.

backing and interest and support to build this program within North [00:09:00] Dakota. I'm curious, what, what role did you play in the birth and evolution of CareerViewXR? It sounds like they're so intricately intertwined with the ND and CareerViewXR and very well connected. So how did. How did that come about?

How did you help to build or create CareerViewXR and bring that in?

Wayde Sick: Sure. So, so I first saw the, the CareerView XR, or heard about the CareerView XR concept. Oh man, when was it? Five, six years ago, I think. So being more colorful, Matthew Chaussee came into the, to the North Dakota Workforce Development Council. Who is, who is the the council that advises the, the legislature and the governor on.

Workforce initiatives over 50 percent made up of private sector individuals from across the state, all the industries, one single body that that advises across the board for everybody. And anyway Matthew came in and presented on this idea that he had. Five, six years ago, however long ago it was now, about [00:10:00] this is what I'm doing now with virtual reality, and I want to figure out how to do this with career exploration.

He was doing other work and really felt that there was something behind it. providing virtual reality career exploration so that a student can really see what a North Dakota job looks like, whether it's being a nurse, whether it's being a mechanic, whether it's being somebody that works on a construction site, whatever the case may be.

So he brought this idea and it just really intrigued me. I'm like, wow, this is, this is really neat. And this is something that I think not only in, in an urban area in North Dakota, because, you know, how do you get 500 kids out onto a on a field trip or on job shadows. But also rural North Dakota. So it was really an intriguing idea.

So, I guess what I did along the way is, is I connected Matthew with different educators, different individuals that are more progressive in their, in their thoughts of how to do career exploration, got feedback. He started developing this proof of concept and, and we granted some dollars out to [00:11:00] some specific individual school districts to partner with be more colorful to start building the library and develop that proof of concept and, and get feedback along the way of what works, what doesn't work and not just feedback from educators, but also feedback from students.

from students and feedback from, from employers. So, my role was just connecting, being more colorful with, with different educators across, across the state and, developing those partnerships, developing that library, developing that proof of concept until we got to a point where there's enough content, this is successful, this is working, let's roll it across to every student across the state of North Dakota.

Tanya Sheckley: Thank you.

As you're looking at the next step of that and adding on to this work, you're also training coordinators to focus on employer education partnerships. What does that look like? Like once a student gets to explore different career options in VR, sees something new or something interesting or something exciting that they [00:12:00] want to learn more about, kind of what are those next steps or is there a way to connect to employers or, I guess along with that, are you tracking at all students that are taking different career opportunities because of the knowledge they're learning?

Wayde Sick: Well since this is so new, I don't think we have access to that, to that data yet. You know, we know, we know how many students are using the, or we will know how many students are, are, are logging in and taking a look at these different experiences. You know, we can probably see which ones are being watched more than others.

So I think it's too early to know. That impact, you know, that that'll come in time. Really what the next step is, is, you know, it depends on the age of the student too if, if these are middle school students and they find out about this occupation that is just up and up and coming in North Dakota or very stable and continues to grow, the next step is to get them into a career technical education program that's related to that kind of pathway.

If they saw something in, in In building trades, well then let's get them into [00:13:00] something that's related to construction. Let's get them into even in a cultural education program that that that teacher is teaching some of those building trades skills. Let's get that student on that path and get them some of those, those courses.

And some of those courses may come virtually. They may not all be face to face. Ideally, they would be face to face. But again, we live in a rural state and virtual is sometimes the route we have to go. So that's the next step is to get that student to understand those skills, learn some of those skills.

And then the real next step is to get a student out on a work based learning experience. Getting that student placed with an employer where that employer and that student and that school, they all understand where that student is at, what skills they have, what their future goals are, and that employer becomes a part of the education process and instead of being a recipient of the education or a beneficiary of the education process, they become a partner in that education process.

So that's, that is the next step is getting them out in that, [00:14:00] that work based learning experience. And then graduation and then straight into the workforce into post secondary to uh, to continue those skills. Ideally, that work based learning experience, a partnership is forged between that student and that employer and that employer says, We'll pay for your post secondary as long as you come back and work for us.

And we're seeing some of those kinds of opportunities arise in North Dakota as well.

Tanya Sheckley: Do you have data on what's more popular yet? What students are looking at or what they're finding interesting in the, in the VR platform?

Wayde Sick: You know, I don't have that. I think we could definitely ask CareerView XR or be more colorful. They may have that. I guess I haven't asked for that data yet since we're still in the first school year of being used. I think that's an appropriate question to ask once the school year comes to an end and we have a full school year of, of where students had opportunity to see those experiences.

Definitely a question I will ask when that school year [00:15:00] comes to a close.

Yeah, it'll be a fun reflection question. I'm super curious to see, like, if there's something specific that students are interested in, or if that falls regionally, or if it's really just a smattering of, of students checking out new things. That'll be fun. That'll be fun data to dig through.

Wayde Sick: Absolutely, I agree.

Tanya Sheckley: You mentioned that you've gotten feedback from students and educators and employers, and I know that the platform now has over 70 experiences, probably most like, most of them built from feedback that you've gotten from, from students and educators.

Have you, can you share any feedback or do you have any stories or kind of case study type stories of students who, who have used the platform or what they're saying about it, or just about the whole program in North Dakota, if you've had feedback?

Wayde Sick: Anecdotally, I think what we've heard is, is students are learning about opportunities or occupations, jobs, careers, whatever you want to call them that they didn't even know existed. Not even, you know, maybe not even in the United States, but definitely not in North Dakota. [00:16:00] Again, back to what I said earlier students know what they know, know what they see.

And until they see it, they, they don't know about it. So I think that's really a big part is just the eye opening of the, the wealth of occupations that we have available for our young people in North Dakota. I think something else is, is just how, how realistic the experience can be. You know, I've, I've played around with a few of them and, and, you know, being on top of a wind turbine.

Turbine, which is, I don't know how tall a wind turbine is, but you know, hundreds of feet up in the air standing up there, you know, you, you feel what it's like to be that far off the ground without being off the ground. I think that's just another thing that I've heard is just how cool. Realistic the experiences are and, and yeah, I, I, those are the two things that really I've heard personally.

Could you see this being a pilot for other states, or do you think other states might want to jump in on the action when they see how, how cool and successful this is?

I, I wouldn't, [00:17:00] I can't see why another state wouldn't want to. North Dakota isn't the only rural state in the United States.

We're not the only diverse economy in the United States. You look at many other states across the country, very different economic regions because of the resources that they have. So, I can't see why another state wouldn't. embrace technology, virtual reality, to get these types of experiences in front of their students at a younger age, so that they can figure out their career path, they can figure out their place in life at an earlier age, so they can start tailoring their education to what their long term goals might be.

Tanya Sheckley: When you think about North Dakota and career and technical education, or when you think about just students education in general, and this whole program, what are you most excited about when you look to the future, what do you think is coming next?

Wayde Sick: Oh, something that's coming next. I would love to see students having the ability to manipulate that virtual [00:18:00] reality experience and not just be be inside that virtual reality experience. Being able to be in a virtual reality experience and reach down and pick up a wrench virtually and actually be able to manipulate something.

I think that would be really the next step to help students understand right now, the virtual reality experiences we have are like a field trip or a job shadow where you are seeing, you're asking questions, you're getting responses, but I'd love to see us be able to manipulate the experience, not just be a part of that experience.

Tanya Sheckley: Oh, interesting. So almost like an apprenticeship and virtual reality where you're actually learning how to move the pieces and work things together or build the engine or whatever it is that they're working on. But being able to. To really touch and move and feel all of those things.

Wayde Sick: Yeah, I think that would be incredibly interesting. Now, obviously ideal you're in [00:19:00] that facility, but and actually picking up a wrench or picking up a welding torch or whatever. But you know, I, I think that's something that our older students in, in high school. should have an opportunity to, but if you're manipulating a virtual reality experience at a young age, seventh, eighth, freshman you know, sometimes career exploration is not only finding something you like, but finding something you don't like.

So, I can see students thinking that they want to do something and all of a sudden they engage in it. In a physical way, but in virtual reality. And they're like, yeah, this is, this is not what I thought it was going to be. It's time for me to continue to look. So I think that could play a role to help students find their place without investing too much time.

Tanya Sheckley: Yeah, I had a friend who spent months wanting to be a roofer and going through the union and taking all the tests and the certifications and the things that you needed to be able to do to be a roofer and got out on the job, you know, for the first few weeks of training and I think lasted three weeks before [00:20:00] decided that this was absolutely terrible and there's no way that he wanted to spend any more time on a roof.

Which I, I don't know that virtual reality can quite simulate the, the heat and the smell and, and all of the things that come with something like that. But definitely, yeah, the ability of do I like this or don't I, and it makes me think of some of the augmentative reality programs that are out there now for science where, you know, you can, you know, dissect a human heart in augmented reality in front of you.

And they're using this to, to do early education in, in medical training and, you know, in other fields as well. And so, yeah, like I can't even fathom what goes into creating that kind of technology, but

it would be, yeah, really interesting and fun as a next step. So what, what haven't I asked that you would like to share with listeners?

Wayde Sick: You know, we, we touched on it a little bit, but just how important it was for the employers to have a say [00:21:00] in. Those experiences, you know, I think we're running across employers are finally understanding that if we don't become a part of the education process, we are not going to have a future workforce.

So, you know, I think just how interested employers were in this type of technology and trying to get them in front of the schools. I just can't stress that enough.

Tanya Sheckley: Well, so much of this really depends on them too. Like I, I had Matthew on the Rebel Educator podcast and we got to talk a little bit about CareerViewXR and what they're talking about. And he talked a lot about, or I remember a story that he talked about Building a program of, I think it was an elevator repairman and being in the elevator shaft and like that, that takes the connection of working with the employer, even just to create that in virtual reality, but also to your point, you know, how, what are the things then that the employer is looking for [00:22:00] that we can impart through the education to build the workforce that they need for the future?

Wayde Sick: Absolutely. You know, I think something else, you know, I just want to, you know, maybe stress is the patience that employers have had while we work through that process. School can't, or education doesn't move as fast as, as the private sector employers do. Employers, you know, I just, I just heard an individual say this just a few weeks ago.

If I, in the private sector, if I had an idea on, on Monday, we, We developed it by Wednesday, and by Friday I saw the results. Um, Education just doesn't move that fast. There's so many things that are going on in a school, whether that's an elementary, middle school, high school post secondary and with higher education.

I just appreciate the, the willingness to be a part of these experiences, all these employers and, and different entities. But then also how they've been patient and, and gracious that, okay, this is a really neat platform. We're going to get in front of a lot of individuals [00:23:00] and, and we're not going to see the, the, the outcomes tomorrow. We're going to see the outcomes in a year, two years, three years. And so it's just how important it is to sustain this so that students for years to come can continue to have access to this library. And this library continues to, to expand to hit all the in demand jobs.

You know, that was something that, that be more colorful, did a nice job is they really focused on the in demand jobs in the state of North Dakota. They didn't try to build an experience for every single occupation. They looked at those that were the most in demand those that required some sort of post secondary education or training those that, that you can make a livable wage.

Those are the growest fat, the fastest growing. So it was very strategic and the library that was developed and I'm glad that that's the way we went, and that's the way I hope we continue.

Tanya Sheckley: seems like a really beautiful example of a full learning ecosystem, like that, that term comes up a lot in education of how do we connect students to real world [00:24:00] experiences and vice versa. But what you've created in North Dakota is really the state getting involved and supporting through legislation and through You know, funding for all of its schools and all of its students and the ability to work with that through the Department of Career and Technical Education, while working with private sector organizations like CareerView XR and bringing that into the network and the platform, but also with the feedback of students and employers and having employers and the workforce or the private sector.

Intricately involved in that as well as you've you've brought in the the entire cycle and system of of an ecosystem of learning for students and it it feels like a really beautiful example of. what can be created when everybody works together to create opportunities for students to help students see where they want to go in the future but also to create a pipeline of workforce [00:25:00] for the most in demand jobs so that in the future, those jobs aren't going unfulfilled or unfilled.

Wayde Sick: Right. Yeah, that's really the role of current technical education. I think that's the role we try to take here in North Dakota, that we are the crossroads between K 12 education, post secondary education, and the employer and the workforce needs. And we were missing out on providing students experiences like this a broad exposure of experiences.

So that's really what, what this technology, what CareerView XR has done is it helps us continue to be that very important crossroads between those three different things. And, and just, just proud of the work that's been done and can't wait to see the data, see the results and, and be able to tell the story that we've that we've created with, with allowing every student in North Dakota to have access to this.

Tanya Sheckley: Well, this is an incredible start to the story. Thank you so much for your time today, Wayde. I've really enjoyed [00:26:00] learning about the program and how you're putting it together statewide. It's really incredible. Thank you.

Wayde Sick: Well, thanks for having me again. And, and uh, just, I love telling the story and, and hopefully I can continue to tell that story.

Creators and Guests

Tanya Sheckley
Tanya Sheckley
Rebel Educator®, Founder, Edupreneur, Keynote Speaker, Author
Be More Colorful
Be More Colorful
We are a virtual reality content agency focused on solving real-world problems through VR. Check us out and experience it!
Wayde Sick
Wayde Sick
State Director, North Dakota Department of Career and Technical Education
Wayde Sick, North Dakota State CTE Director, On Enhancing Career Exploration with VR/XR Technology