Mich. stu­dents need ca­reer prep

The Detroit News - - OPINIONS - BY PA­TRICK OCHARZAK

Michi­gan’s econ­omy has bounced back in a big way from the “Lost Decade” that saw both Gen­eral Mo­tors and Chrysler de­clare bank­ruptcy while hun­dreds of thou­sands of Michi­ga­ni­ans lost their jobs.

The state’s job­less rate is the low­est it’s been since the dot­com boom, and a di­ver­si­fy­ing econ­omy is pro­jected to cre­ate more than 800,000 health care, man­u­fac­tur­ing and in­for­ma­tion tech­nol­ogy jobs.

There’s only one prob­lem — our stu­dents aren’t grad­u­at­ing with the skills they need to fill these po­si­tions.

As in much of the United States, some­where along the line we lost our way in K-12 ed­u­ca­tion. Once the norm be­came go­ing to a four-year col­lege or uni­ver­sity, get­ting a bach­e­lor’s de­gree, and then try­ing to find a job, the pub­lic school sys­tem stopped think­ing about pre­par­ing kids for good ca­reers right out of high school — even though that’s where much of to­day’s job growth is now hap­pen­ing. This ap­proach needs to change.

Many of the most in-de­mand jobs don’t re­quire an ex­pen­sive four-year de­gree, but do re­quire ap­pli­cants to have very spe­cific tech­ni­cal skills and ex­pe­ri­ences not avail­able in most high school cour­ses. Ca­reer Readi­ness cour­ses — which go well be­yond the tra­di­tional ca­reer and tech­ni­cal ed­u­ca­tion classes older read­ers will re­mem­ber — can pro­vide stu­dents with these qual­i­fi­ca­tions and put them on a path that leads to a high-pay­ing, life­long ca­reer.

For some stu­dents, there is a very clear link be­tween a core aca­demic course and an en­su­ing ca­reer. A fu­ture chem­i­cal en­gi­neer will prob­a­bly en­joy high school chem­istry classes. But for the stu­dents who strug­gle with or are un­in­ter­ested in these sub­jects, con­nect­ing the dots be­tween ed­u­ca­tion and ca­reer can be dif­fi­cult. As ev­ery teacher has heard many times: “When will I ever use this?”

Ca­reer Readi­ness cour­ses can help fill those gaps, make school more rel­e­vant, and give stu­dents the skills they ac­tu­ally need to suc­ceed in life af­ter high school.

Plus, the more aware stu­dents are of their op­tions, the less likely they are to over­spend on next steps. Stu­dents in­ter­ested in skilled trades may not need a col­lege de­gree for what they want to do. And for col­lege-bound stu­dents, go­ing into post-sec­ondary school with an end goal in mind can pre­vent them from chang­ing ma­jors and dig­ging even deeper into col­lege debt.

But be­ing ca­reer ready is about much more than grad­u­at­ing from high school, en­rolling in col­lege or a trade pro­gram and tak­ing a set of in­dus­try-spe­cific classes. It’s also about be­ing pre­pared for what comes af­ter that: ap­ply­ing to and even­tu­ally be­ing of­fered a job. Some Ca­reer Readi­ness cour­ses, like one that I teach, ad­dress this.

These cour­ses start off go­ing over what most high school stu­dents learn from a guid­ance coun­selor — in­for­ma­tion on The Com­mon Ap­pli­ca­tion, The Free Ap­pli­ca­tion for Fed­eral Stu­dent Aid (FASFA), etc. Build­ing upon that, they pro­vide fur­ther in­sight into dif­fer­ent fields, what kind of ed­u­ca­tion/train­ing each re­quire, and help stu­dents cre­ate a clear plan of what to do once they get their diploma. They don’t stop there, though, also show­ing stu­dents things like how to build a re­sume or in­ter­view well. As a re­sult, stu­dents will more eas­ily bridge the gap first be­tween high school and col­lege/trade school, and then be­tween col­lege/trade school and the work­force.

Our K-12 ed­u­ca­tion needs a shift in mind­set, one that fo­cuses not on get­ting stu­dents into col­lege but pre­par­ing them for a suc­cess­ful ca­reer, whether that ca­reer will re­quire a four-year de­gree or tech­ni­cal train­ing. This is par­tic­u­larly true in Michi­gan, where we have jobs that need to be filled but no skilled work­ers to fill them. The “Lost Decade” is a thing of the past, and we must push aside our fears and the be­lief that only col­lege leads to suc­cess if we want a ca­reer-ready fu­ture.

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