Careers bring real world into classrooms

Schools and businesses partner to forge productive programs
By: | Issue: November, 2015
October 14, 2015

Educators have long stressed the importance of showing students how classwork connects to future careers.

And this year, the importance of forging real-world connections is taking center stage at the Association for Career and Technical Education’s annual CareerTech Vision Conference, taking place in New Orleans from Nov. 19 to 22.

Organizers have more than tripled the number of businesses participating in the conference’s second-ever career pavilion, a space where industry representatives showcase everything from the salaries of entry-level jobs to what kind of training is required. This responds to the demands of administrators seeking to learn more about the career possibilities available to students.

“It gives administrators something real and tangible to share with their educators,” says Michael Connet, ACTE’s senior director of programs and communications. “It shows them that it’s not just about getting a high school diploma, it’s about preparing students for jobs in the community.”

The expansion is also indicative of the growing number of K12 districts across the country collaborating with local industries and colleges to shape seamless higher ed and career pathways for their students.

Partnerships between educational institutions and businesses can yield surprising results about what kind of job training is really needed in the community, says Tina Tinney, vice chancellor of strategic initiatives at Northshore Technical Community College in Louisiana.

The college joined forces in 2013 with more than a dozen high schools and local businesses to conduct a regional workforce analysisÑa process that Tinney says can be helpful for K12 districts even without a local college partner.

Northshore’s analysis found the greatest demands were for STEM education and training in maritime careers supporting the oil and gas industry, Tinney says.

Northshore is working in partnership with St. Tammany Parish schools to develop a new maritime career pathway that will start in high school, continue at the community college and could lead to a four-year degree. The pathway will lead to maritime jobs supporting Louisiana’s oil and gas industry.

Focus on pathways

A national focus on hands-on education that leads to college and career success is helping to elevate career tech education right now, Connet says. An increase in the number of new programs of study and career pathways is evident.

“It’s important to look at the people we are educating and realize we are not just educating them for careers tomorrow, we are educating them for future life changes,” Tinney says.

And such a shift means building flexibility into educational pathways. With the maritime pathway, for example, students can take classes in high school that will qualify them for entry-level positions after graduation. High school students can also dual-enroll in community college and graduate with credit toward an associate’s degree or certificate.

The same pathway will also enable students to transfer and earn a four-year degree. For students who choose to join the workforce immediately or right after earning a career certificate, the hope with the pathway is that they will be able to easily return to a program of study mid-career.

Input from industry leaders has shaped other foundational high school and college courses, including behavioral sciences and history classes that support career pathways, Tinney says. At Northshore that means a history class focused on the business of oil and psychology classes that address the addiction issues facing some of the workers in that industry in Louisiana.

Congruence in STEM

Many CTE pathways now include a strong focus on STEM training, says Connet of ACTE. A maritime job operating a computer program stabilizing cargo ships will require a great deal of physics and engineering knowledge, Tinney says.

STEM training in middle and high school CTE programs can be improved by eliminating the silo mentality that “science is science” and “math is math,” says Paul Asunda, an ACTE presenter from Purdue University who trains future K12 teachers.

Instead, teachers should look for common ground between the disciplines by focusing on cross-cutting concepts embedded in the Next Generation Science Standards or the Common Core learning standards such as structure and function, systems, patterns, and energy and matter. Teachers can then integrate those concepts into CTE assignments.

“The key thing,” Asunda says, “is to anchor your lessons around real-world problems and then bring in the standards you need to attain.”

Jessica Terrell is a freelance writer based in Hawaii.