Building a Talent Pool

Opportunities flow — from elementary school onward

Student artists at Avondale High School participate in the Mahindra Education Development Commission for the Arts program. Photo courtesy of Mahindra.

Zlphia Martin was just a kid when she realized she had a gift for computers and technology, taking on the role of IT guru for her family by fixing the computer and other household electronics whenever a problem occurred.

Fast forward to Berkley High School, where Martin heard about Oakland Schools Technical Campus. She was intrigued by the opportunities to not only work with other like-minded teens, but to also get hands-on training in a field she found fascinating.

At the Southeast Campus, Martin learned about computer systems networking and telecommunications, a skill set she rolled directly into a five-year master’s program at the University of Detroit Mercy. Martin, who graduated in 2017, now works as a team leader at Southfield-based Secure-24 in its security operations center.

A product of Oakland Schools Technical Campus, Zilphia Martin earned a master’s degree and now works training incoming security analysts. Photo by Jake Turskey

“I had to fight hard to show my parents and my counselors that the Technical Campus was where I needed to be — I knew it would lay the right foundation for my dreams of working in IT,” Martin says. “It’s one thing to understand the theories behind why computers work. But it’s another to know where to put the motherboard or how to set up a network.”

Having real-life computer experience as a teen was life-changing, Martin says. She puts those lessons to work daily at her current job, where she is training incoming tier 1 security analysts, preparing them to work in the field with demanding engineering teams.


Technical and soft skills. Apprenticeships and mentorships. Business leaders connect-ing with students through everything from art to robotics to Google with its innovative CS First program. If it were a reality show, it would be called Oakland County’s Got Talent and feature an innovative educational spectrum from kindergarten to senior year of high school.

Students, parents and schools have more opportunities than ever to be part of this future talent ecosystem that aims to ensure there’s a place for all who seek it. Groups from Oakland Schools to Michigan Works! to institutions including Oakland Community College are all lending a hand, ensuring today’s children, tweens and teens see the excitement ahead of them in terms of higher education and a career.

Paul Galbenski, who taught Martin when he was an instructor, is now dean of Oakland Schools Northeast Technical Campus. He shares her story with students as he seeks to recruit others through summer camps, campus visits and various promotional events to show off the opportunities available for K-12 students at the technical campuses and around Oakland County.

“We’ve known for years, particularly in Oakland County, that these four campuses are really a hidden gem,” Galbenski says. “But we don’t want to be a well-kept secret. We want students and parents to know that this is about building a foundation for a well-paying and fulfilling career path.”


Over the last decade, schools, workforce organizations and businesses have realized career development is a lifelong process, Oakland County Michigan Works!

“It starts very early,” she says. “We ask kids as young as 7 or 8 what they want to be when they grow up.”

Add in the consideration that Oakland County has a 2.9 percent unemployment rate, and you see the challenge facing employers, Llewellyn says. They are wondering where they will find the talent needed for high-tech, engineering and mathematics-focused jobs both now and into the future.

That’s why Michigan Works! is creating a variety of events, programs and mentorship opportunities that give K-12 students wider exposure to the kind of jobs and companies that eagerly await them as they finish their technical training, college or advanced degrees, Llewellyn says.

For example, the successful Oakland County Manufacturing Day in 2018 gave more than 700 high school students across Oakland County tours of 35 different manufacturing facilities. Participating companies included General Motors Co., food manufacturer Garden Fresh in Ferndale and smaller vendors, such as welding companies. Those bright, clean and automated workplaces helped students see the way manufacturing is done today, Llewellyn says. Now in its fourth year, the event engages high school students in a realistic view of manufacturing and their future in it.

In November 2018, Llewellyn and her team were launching a new event called MiCareerQuest. The plan was to bring an estimated 10,000 high school students to a career fair like no other, Llewellyn says. At MiCareerQuest Southeast, students from around the region experienced what Llewellyn calls “the largest hands-on career exploration experience.”

The purpose was to connect students from Oakland and nearby counties with working professionals from nearly 100 companies around the region. The students took part in hands-on, interactive demonstrations and conversations that highlight in-demand jobs in advanced manufacturing, construction, health sciences and information technology.

“Exposure to these in-demand occupations creates excitement,” Llewellyn says. “Students interested in health sciences drew blood from a mannequin arm, tried out as an EMT and put someone on a stretcher and into an ambulance and used the Da Vinci robots in a simulated surgery. It was not your typical career fair.”


Businesses are eager to get involved in these kinds of career-building events for K-12 students as not only sponsors, but as partners and creators.

In Troy, the Mahindra North American Technical Center recently launched the Mahindra Education Development Commission for the Arts. Focused on high school art students, the program works with art teachers to develop student artwork for display and sale at the automotive manufacturer’s local headquarters.

The goal, says organizer Paul Lowis, is to help fund art education in the schools, help teachers develop their best students and reward student artists who participate in the program with not only prizes for the best works — but a career path. He also hopes to recruit other companies to help fund the overall program, which he wants to expand into other fields and states as well.

“It’s a small snowball at the top of the hill gaining speed and momentum,” Lowis says. “As I tell everyone who hears about the program and its impact on students: Every company has its own personality. This just gave us a soul.”

Written by Karen Dybis for the 2019 edition of Oakland County Prosper magazine.