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Reach Higher Montana: Empowering Students, Shaping Careers

Students in Montana are achieving their educational and career goals thanks to the collaborative efforts of Reach Higher Montana. Supported by the Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation since 2021, Reach Higher Montana helps students pursue educational opportunities and achieve success in their careers and life.

Reach Higher Montana is uniquely positioned in the landscape of youth-serving organizations in the state. As a nonprofit, it has the flexibility to act as a convening entity that brings together partners in state government, education, business and community groups. It also operates programs and outreach services that help students throughout Montana connect to their next steps after high school, whether that is the workforce, college, the military or other options.

The main focus of Reach Higher Montana is its Work-Based Learning Collaborative (the Collaborative). The Collaborative is a cross-section of public and private sector organizations with a stake in work-based learning, working together to find better ways to ensure Montana students, educators and businesses are supported by high-quality, accessible, relevant and measurable work-based learning opportunities. These learning opportunities range from workplace tours to youth apprenticeships, and many other models in between.

The Collaborative has a bold vision: Every young adult in Montana will have multiple pathways to economic self-sufficiency, supported by a statewide work-based learning system that honors the potential of students and addresses the workforce needs of Montana businesses, today and tomorrow.

The Collaborative has developed several tools that have positively impacted Montana students, such as a work-based learning toolkit for employers, which helps businesses develop opportunities to maximize meaning for both participating students and their employees. Another example is the Teacher Externship Program, which places teachers in businesses for their own three-day work-based learning experiences. The program exposes teachers to a variety of occupations within a specific business so they can share that information with their students.

“The Montana Work-Based Learning Collaborative has come a long way since its inception in 2021,” said Kelly Cresswell, executive director, Reach Higher Montana. “We deeply appreciate the support of the Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation and the ongoing commitment to the work from all of our partners.”

The Collaborative’s short-term goals are to increase interest and participation in work-based learning among youth and employers and to expand employer-based opportunities in high-growth industries that pay living wages. The long-term impact that will be achieved is young people in Montana being better prepared for employment success, and Montana employers having a pool of skilled workers to meet their needs.

The Collaborative also has an annual retreat at West Creek Ranch. During these retreats, leaders and stakeholders identify opportunities to work together to help Montana students navigate work-based learning. The opportunity to get away at the ranch allows participants to truly focus on the work and lean into ideas and strategies that help all the organizations in the Collaborative.

“West Creek Ranch has been the perfect incubator for the Collaborative to capture the energy of the group and channel it toward our goals,” said Bo Bruinsma, Career Outreach Director, Billings Public Schools. “I always leave the retreat at West Creek Ranch proud of all the progress we’ve made, re-energized by the people and space we share during our time there and motivated to keep pushing forward.” 

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