This was a weird choice for me. I teach fourth grade, far up the pipeline from the actual transition from school to work. However, my own kids are in high school and hopefully they’ll soon enter the post-secondary world. So I was attending the session in that context.
It started off well; the presenters, Lynn Anderson and Nancy Roberts, both from Baton Rouge, handed out Mardi Gras beads and sugared pecans as we came in. I didn’t wear the beads, but I ate the pecans.
The first point Lynn made is that when a company considers where to locate a plant, the first indicator they study is education attainment level. It’s not so much the degrees themselves that matter; it’s the fact that degrees represent the fact that a person can be trained and can stick to something.
That said, there are over three million jobs unfilled in this country; jobs for which people are currently unprepared. These jobs demand training that people just don’t have. Lots of these jobs are high-skill, well-paying jobs for which a college degree will not prepare a person. To get these jobs, a person needs to finish high school, get an associate’s degree and then get trained every three years by the company that hires them.
The point is, these jobs require post-secondary education, but not necessarily a four-year degree. The problem is that we’re not currently introducing our students to these jobs to the extent that we’re encouraging them to pursue a four-year degree. When we use the term “college and career ready” students think we’re talking about the colleges that have football teams; they should be hearing about any type of post-secondary training.
We did an activity in which we listed every career that was involved in building the room we were in. We came up with over 25, the point being that there are a lot of careers that most teachers aren’t normally aware of.
High Skill/High Demand Careers are defined as those that are needed in the community, require at least some post-secondary education and pay more than $45K. Wages, by the way, are more closely tied to demand than they are to education.
One common misconception is that students who gravitate toward these jobs are “less than” students. The truth, however, is that most of these jobs require as much academic skills as college students; the demand on a first-year electrician is as much as the demand on a first-year college student.
Lynn pointed out that school counselors tend to recommend college to the best students. It seems logical, of course, but when you think about, there’s no reason in the world why low-performing students shouldn’t pursue high demand/high skills jobs that don’t require a four year college degree, especially when you think of how many college graduates are making coffee. She suggested that students should first decide on a career, then decide on a major and then choose a college.
This was an interesting session; better than I thought it would be. I left with a greater appreciation for the need to get students to consider a wider range of careers and a wider range of post-secondary options.