By guest poster, Brett Pawlowski, EVP of the National Center for College and Career Transitions.
We work with a lot of state departments of education, and in recent years we’ve gotten lots of requests for support on employer engagement. We’ve written an advisory committee handbook for one and have another on the way for another state; we’re creating a guide to apprenticeships for a third; we’ve done a statewide analysis for a fourth to recommend ways to increase engagement; and we’ve done employer engagement workshops for some of these and many others.
Whenever we talk with people about employer engagement through any of these channels, we keep one critical concept at the center of the conversation: Return on investment, or ROI. In fact, I often tell people that if they spend four hours with me at a workshop and walk away with nothing else but a clear understanding of ROI, then that time will have been worthwhile.
That one simple principle is the foundation of strong employer partnerships. Industry doesn’t want to work with you solely as a charitable effort: There are lots of charities in the world, and there’s no reason businesses would need to work with schools over the thousands of child-serving nonprofits out there if they just want to volunteer or make a charitable contribution. Businesses work with schools because they see a possible return on an investment of their limited resources.
What kind of ROI do they want? They want a capable workforce in the future (that’s typically our lead-in in CTE), but they also want higher employee morale right now; that means giving their employees an opportunity to work with kids, and to share the story of your work together internally. They want to do good, but they also want to be seen as doing good; that requires telling the story of your partnership to their customers and the community at large. They want to be seen as good guys with influentials like industry regulators. And on an individual level, they want not only the personal fulfillment that comes with volunteering, but also the networking, skills development and resume-building that every professional needs.
Do you know what they want most of all? They want to be asked what they want. They want to know that you’re interested in their ROI as much as your own. It’s fine to tell them what you need, but first take the time to ask them what they need. What does a great entry-level worker look like? What are they trying to accomplish as a business? What are their challenges right now? And how can a collaboration with our school or district help you meet some of your goals while at the same time helping us meet ours?
I hope you’ll take the idea of ROI to heart and apply it to your employer relationships. You’ll see results in very short order.
This is part of our Engage.Connect Webcast Series where we highlight innovative programs or techniques in education.
Title: The Arkansas Career Coaching Program
Hans Meeder, President of NC3T interviewed Sonja Wright-McMurray, Associate Director for Career and Technical Education – Special Projects for The Arkansas Department of Career Education. She and her team are doing some fantastic work through their Arkansas Career Coaching Program. In this webcast, we explore Arkansas’ innovative approach to getting college and career specialists into the schools to supplement the counseling department and help students develop plans and strategies for accessing postsecondary education with a solid career plan.
Like you probably, I slept very little on Tuesday night/Wednesday morning as I anxiously awaited and processed the results of America’s national and state elections. And perhaps like many of you, I was very surprised by the outcome.
I had some close friends and neighbors who saw the election and candidates very differently than I did and we voted for different candidates. Elections are wars fought with ballots, not bullets. But they are wars nonetheless, great battles of ideas. In 2016, a majority of Americans who casts their ballots for President-elect Trump told us something very important – that they wanted a significant change in direction and leadership in our national government.
Why did Trump Win?
There is no ONE reason why Donald Trump rode a wave of change over Hillary Clinton. Each voter chose their candidate based on a complex interaction of personal beliefs, values and concerns. Not all of the beliefs and values of every individual voter are honorable, and I think Trump was a very flawed candidate; but I do believe that he gave voice to a deep resonance of discontent among many, many working class men and women. Many small towns and suburbs, and cities before them, have lost ground over the past several decades as low and medium skilled jobs were outsourced through the forces of globalization. Even jobs that stayed or have been re-shored have been dramatically up-skilled through assistive automation and robotics. These external forces of massive restructuring hollowed out millions of decent paying jobs for people with relatively low skills.
Can Trump deliver the change he promises?
Now, I know that it is a pipe dream to think we are going to see massive re-opening of manufacturing plants and steel production plants, at least not in the way that will produce thousands of low-skilled, middle-class jobs. Political advertisements that promote a messianic vision of the power of a presidential candidate (whether it be Trump or the previous change candidate Barack Obama) are sure to lead to disappointed voters. These political ads vastly overstate a president’s true ability to affect change within a system of checks and balances.
But despite the limitations of power in Washington, DC, there is a crying need for helping youth and young adults access opportunities. Employers tell us there are opportunities for skilled manufacturing technicians with problem-solving and communication skills. As our health care system continues to evolve and a large wave of boomers continues to age, we need skilled health care workers. We need information technology workers, engineers and designers, and individuals with a mix of communications, business and digital literacies that can participate in our evolving business services sectors. We need workers in the human services fields and good educators. We need skilled craftspeople for construction and maintenance of our homes, worksites and infrastructure. All the while, new assistive and automation technologies are going to be infusing and transforming our jobs and work environments, so workers will need to constantly adapt and evolve and grow.
How do we move forward now?
This is hard. Somehow, we need to marry up and better align our efforts at talent development with economic development, cultivating skilled workers and matching them with growing companies that create good jobs.
I believe our vision statement at NC3T matters more than ever. “Every learner with a dream and a plan; every community with a capable, ready workforce.”
Skills and adaptability are the coin of the realm for the now and future economies, and the Pathways System approach is the best education and workforce solution to develop the skills and adaptability our youth and adult workers need. It is a key human talent strategy for our small towns, our urban centers, and our suburbs.
Whether or not we like outcome of Tuesday’s election, the need for answers and solutions to our talent development challenge is real. The angst and anger our fellow citizens are feeling have been communicated at a high volume.
As a leader in your community, I encourage you to take stock and harness the energy of this election. It’s time for practical solutions and forward progress. Take advantage of this critical moment in time to engage your fellow citizens to join you in pursuing the pathways vision.
I don’t want to replay the election itself, and I will insist on a respectful dialogue, but I would like to know from you – How can leaders promoting the Pathways vision take advantage of the climate for change? What are the opportunities and threats? Post a comment to share your perspective.
As you are working to enhance your Career Development programs, ask yourself, “how big an issue is money in the way our students look at career options?” Are they placing too little emphasis on earnings, too much, or just about right? Here’s some information that will help you fill out the conversation.
We understand that every young person wants to find a level of personal happiness as they move toward adulthood. They want to find a sense of “well-being.” But well-being in a career is a little difficult to measure, so people often use earnings as a default measurement. This message about the importance of earnings gets amplified by some college and university recruiters who play up the average higher level of earnings for their graduates over the average earnings of graduates of community colleges, certification programs, or high school. They communicate the idea – either implicitly or explicitly – “the more I earn, the happier I will be.”
So, as you help your students engage with career choices, an important question should be – does money buy happiness? The answer is — Yes and No. Research conducted by researchers at Princeton University, utilizing Gallup data on well-being, discovered there is actually a level of earnings in the U.S. that allows an individual to reach a basic level of life satisfaction. That level of family income is $75,000, but it ranges from $65,000 to $90,000, depending on the cost of living in the region of the country in which you reside. No doubt, earning less than that level can exacerbate life strains – paying for medical care, keeping the car running, paying monthly bills for housing and food, etc… But here’s a finding that might surprise your students — earning more than the basic amount does NOT add additional well-being or happiness.[i] Money helps to avoid pain and discomfort, but it does not ‘buy happiness.’
Given the need to have a family income level of between $65,000 to $90,000, you could reasonably advise a youth that if both parents were working, they would each need to each earn between $32,500 and $45,000 so together they could cover the basic level of life necessities.
Here are some other figures to consider. According to another Gallup survey conducted in spring of 2013, most American families believe that a family of four would need at least $58,000 per year to “get by “in their communities.[ii] That is several thousand dollars more than the median income of the average household in the US, which comes in at about $52,000 year, and is more than double the current federal “poverty” level of $24,000 for a family of four.
Here’s what it takes to simply survive with a living wage, according to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) living wage calculator (see http://livingwage.MIT.edu). This excellent resource shows the absolute minimum you need to earn based on family size, differentiated by zip code. The living wage varies a good deal depending on which region of the country you live in. Here is what families of four, on average, need based on regions from highest to lowest are: North – $56,179; West – $53,505, South – $49,167; and, Midwest – $48,496.
Gallup also distinguishes between a “good job” and a “great job.” A good job is one where you have steady work of 30 hours a week; a great job is where you get to do work that is meaningful and regularly draws on your innate strengths. So as students consider career options, they should aim at a career that will allow them to earn enough for life necessities; those kind of earnings will almost always require education and training beyond high school, even if not a university education. But once they reach that basic threshold of earning enough to have enough, they need to understand that the fullest measure of well-being relates to finding the right fit of their talents and interests to the needs of the world around them. That’s the essential message and purpose of a good Career Development effort in your schools. Make sure your students know that good “fit” leads to well-being, not just the career salary.
[i] Kahneman, D., & Deaton, A. (2010). High income improves evaluation of life but not emotional well-being. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 107(38), 16489–16493.
A few weeks ago, I talked about two of the most frequently asked questions I receive about Pathways – whether students can change their pathway and if a pathways program is inappropriately asking a teen to make a career decision. You can see those questions addressed here.
Today, I’m going to address three other common questions I receive and how I answer them. The three questions are:
- Are pathway programs really preparing students for low-skilled careers instead of college?
- If most “jobs of the future” haven’t yet been created, why should we focus on career preparation?
- Is preparing students for a job really the mission of schools?
Question: Are pathway programs really preparing students for low-skilled careers instead of college?
Answer: First, we can be honest that, in past decades, vocational education may have focused on lower-skill occupations but that has changed significantly. Most CTE programs now are aimed at in-demand and well-paying careers in automotive technology, information technologies, welding and machining, health care, and construction careers, among others. Further, we should recognize that some pathway programs may not actually be considered official “career and technical education (CTE)” programs. In addition to CTE programs, pathway programs in schools often include a multitude of options including liberal arts, journalism, performing and fine arts, social service, social justice, business and finance, etc. Students and parents should be made aware, however, that all pathway programs, including those considered CTE, are designed to develop career, and life readiness, which means they are ready to succeed in postsecondary education and training. In fact, many high-tech, high-demand sectors such as information technology, engineering, and advanced manufacturing fall under the career and technical umbrella yet require a college degree. And another myth-buster — according to the U.S. Department of Education, about 75 percent of CTE students who take three or more related CTE courses already attend some form of postsecondary education and training.[i]
Optimally, pathway programs should be designed with three potential destinations (sometimes referred to as off-ramps and on-ramps): an industry-recognized certification, an associate degree, and a bachelor’s degree. This design makes the pathway program relevant for the learner who wants to enter the workforce as quickly as possible and also for the student who wants to attend a two- or four-year college.
Question: If most “jobs of the future” haven’t yet been created, why should we focus on career preparation?
Answer: There really is no evidence that this notion is based in reality yet it seems that many people have heard it passed along as gospel truth. As an example, consider a researcher and writer who included a statement in her 2011 book purporting that “65% of children entering grade school this year will end up working in careers that haven’t even been invented yet.”[ii] This author wasn’t the first to make this claim and certainly not the last. Yet, research does not support it.
First grade students in 1999 would be approximately in their mid-twenties today and the majority of careers available to them did in fact exist then they were young. This includes retail, information technology, manufacturing, marketing, sales, finance, accounting, teaching, public safety, and skilled trades. Yes, there will be some jobs in the future that don’t exist right now. More importantly, these long-standing careers that still exist are evolving incredibly quickly with new technologies and business models that require higher level thinking, problem-solving and communication skills. The job titles may stay the same, but the skills mix is much more demanding than in the past. Our pathway programs must address both today’s technical skills, but also learning competencies and the transferable employability and life skills students will need to successfully navigate their careers. I would caution, however, that the danger with statements such as “the jobs of the future haven’t yet been invented,” is that it subtly undermines the will to help students understand careers and prepare for career and life success today.
Question: Is preparing students for a job really the mission of schools?
Answer: From the earliest days of public education, there has been a tension between two values: the need for the individual to be a productive working member of society and the aspiration to prepare an individual for a life of learning, thinking, and personal growth. Through the decades, education has veered between two extremes. The first is tracking students into clearly delineated social and work roles while the other extreme is a focus on general knowledge and skills that is devoid of career-relatedness.
The student-tracking model of the mid-20th century made the mistake of training some youths for jobs, rather than also preparing them to be learners who could better adapt to the changing needs of the workplace. In a regimented tracking model, only the college-track students were held to high expectations for abstract reasoning and problem solving. Other students were readied for low-skilled or semi-skilled employment, and when the world started changing rapidly in the 1970s and 80s, many of these workers couldn’t adapt.
In today’s economy, which values higher-level thinking and problem solving as well as marketable technological and business-process skills, a fusion of the two approaches is needed. The two goals – developing adaptive learners and preparing for careers – are not incompatible, in fact they are both essential. Educators and the community-at-large are responsible for holding the two values in a productive tension.
When you think about it, you can see that these questions are all aimed at a more fundamental concern, that perhaps career exploration and career application really shouldn’t be included in the realm of schools. Adopting a career pathways model embraces careers development, pathway programs, and linkages to employer and community partners as important for all students, and this is a very different way of approaching education than what we see in a traditional high school model. When you hear these frequently-asked questions, you may actually be hearing a question relating to the fundamental purpose of education. It will require a good dialogue for some folks to let go of the traditional model and begin to understand the value of the pathways approach. Make sure to address the immediate question at hand, and see if you can also address the underlying issue about the benefits of adopting a pathways approach.
[i] U.S. Department of Education (2013) National Assessment of Career and Technical Education: Interim Report, 2013, U.S. Department of Education, Office of Planning, Evaluation and Policy Development, Policy and Program Studies Service, Washington, D.C., 2013.
[ii] Davidson, C. (2011), Now you see it: how the brain science of attention will transform the way we live, work, and learn, Viking, New York
The term “pathways” seems to be everywhere in today’s parlance. It’s almost as ubiquitous a term as STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) or Common Core when people are discussing education. Why is this?
The current fascination with pathway-related reforms has roots that go back several decades to the first career academies created in Philadelphia in 1969. In some ways, the underlying debates between academic and vocational preparation go back even further, to the dawning years of public education when there was a continuous tug and pull between academic education and practical, or vocational, education.
But the term “pathways” as it is used today is still relatively new, and interest in them and the sense of their importance has grown exponentially in the years following the 2007-2009 Great Recession, as concerns over the viability of the U.S. workforce have become fierce.
This call to action builds on the work of numerous organizations, schools, and educational movements that have been toiling for decades in the shadow of the university-for-all monolith, waiting for the cracks in its foundation to become apparent.
What is a career pathway?
There is now a federally-legislated definition for “career pathway” found in the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (and will mostly likely also be in the next version of the Perkins Career and Technical Education Act). Individuals often attribute different meanings to the term career pathways, sometimes with a programmatic focus and sometimes with more of a focus on the individual’s career choice and how an individual can advance from one job to another within a career cluster. Most of the time, I observe that people are thinking about career pathways as an education/workforce experience. Here is a straightforward definition that we use at NC3T for the term “Pathways Program.” You’ll notice we drop the word “career,” so it is not limited to specific jobs and careers, but can also be more thematic. We simply use the term Pathways Program.
A Pathways Program is a program of interconnected academic and elective classes revolving around a career or subject theme. It is integrated with experiential learning and close connections between secondary and postsecondary education, training, and apprenticeship. The program is designed to support the development of Career and Life Readiness for the learner, so that the individual can successfully enter and advance in a career path.
This definition contains a lot of information, but it captures the important essence of a pathway program. Implementing a high quality pathway program, however, involves more detailed design work. That’s why we’ve developed a more fine-tuned set of design specifications for the components of an individual Pathway Program. There are 12 components, organized into four themes: I) Program Structure, II) Program Leadership, III) Program Alignment and IV) Program Connections.
Theme I. Program Structure
- Pathway Program Interconnected Structure. The Pathway Program is organized and presented to students as a well-defined, multi-year program of themed courses interconnected with academic core courses and experiential learning activities.
- Student Access. The Pathway Program is accessible and marketed to students of varying achievement levels, including students who have Individualized Education Programs or limited English language proficiency.
- Cohort Scheduling. Students in the Pathway Program are scheduled as a cohort and enrolled in as many classes together as possible.
Theme II. Program Leadership
- Pathway Program Advisory Committee. The Pathway Program has an active employer-led Advisory Committee comprised of experts from the field; this committee reviews curriculum, expected skills and knowledge, and equipment, and it coordinates employer involvement in the program.
- Pathway Program Instructional Team. The Pathway Program Instructional Team consists of teachers of career- or themed-classes, teachers for academic subjects, and staff from the counseling department, collaborating to develop cross-curricular projects and lessons and to track and address the progress of students within their Pathway Program cohort.
Theme III. Program Alignment
- Alignment with Workforce Needs and Opportunities. The Pathway Program is developed in alignment with in-demand careers that lead to family-sustaining earnings.
- Alignment with Standards. The Pathway Program is aligned to applicable standards for Career, and Life Readiness, including relevant standards established by the state for academic knowledge and skills and technical skills.
- Alignment with Cross-Curricular Connections. The Pathway Program Instructional Team identifies cross-curricular connections between required academic courses and career-themed elective courses, and it creates resources for cross-curricular and integrated instruction.
- Alignment with Industry-Based Credentials, Certifications, and Technical Skills. The Pathway Program leads to clearly identified college credit, technical skill assessments, and/or industry-recognized certifications, delivered with support for students to know about these options and access them.
Theme IV. Program Connections
- Experiential Learning, Community-based Experience, and Student Leadership. Pathway Program students participate in organized and relevant job shadows, mentorships, field trips, career-related clubs, and skill competitions, as well as in classroom based interactions with guest speakers and individuals coaching student projects. Students develop leadership skills through school- and community-based leadership experiences, volunteerism, and competitions.
- Seamless Connections with Postsecondary Institutions and Regional Career and Technical Centers. The Pathway Program at a high school is aligned with and coordinated with Pathway Programs offered by postsecondary education partners and/or regional career and technical education centers. The high school-based Pathway Program is designed in collaboration with postsecondary partners to allow for a smooth transition of the student from secondary to postsecondary education and training, while minimizing duplication of content among programs.
- Postsecondary Dual Enrollment and Articulation Agreements. The Pathway Program is supported by articulation agreements among high schools and postsecondary education partners, enabling students to earn dual, concurrent, and articulated credits and skills credentials at reduced or no-cost tuition rates for the secondary student.
What to do about Your Pathway Programs
Many high schools have at least one or two programs that could be developed into a robust Pathway Program. Or you may need to develop a new program from scratch. You can get started by using these 12 components and rating your programs on each element. Use a simple rating scoring system like this for each of the components.
- Not existent
- Partial Implementation
- Full implementation
Then add up your totals. If you achieved full implementation of all 12 components that would give you a score of 36! That’s impressive, but very rare.
If your total score is in the 0-12 total range, then you’re mostly doing planning for your pathway program. If you’re from 13-24, then some of the components are in planning and some are in partial implementation. And if you’re from 25-36, then you’re in serious implementation phase.
You may be pleasantly surprised to see how well developed some of the components are. You may also realize that other components are seriously underdeveloped. That’s ok. Giving an honest rating and evaluation of your Pathway Program is the right place to start. You can begin to prioritize which components need attention next and start working your plan, day by day and step by step. I’ll share the general one-year start up plan in an upcoming post.
Your feedback: In your experience, which of these components are most important to attend to in the beginning of design and start-up? Let me know by emailing me at PathwaysSherpa@nc3t.com.
Adapted from The Power and Promise of Pathways, by Hans Meeder.
 Philadelphia Academies, Inc. (nd), Our Story. Retrieved from http://www.academiesinc.org/our-story/
 WIOA. H.R. 803; Pub.L. 113–128
Are Pathways a new form of tracking students? This is one of the first questions some will ask when they are presented with the need and opportunity to give students more options for career and life preparation. It’s a fair question that we need to address directly.
In my new book, The Power and Promise of Pathways, I actively critique the notion of “college for all” or “university for all” that has taken hold of K-12 education in recent decades. This is a tricky and sensitive subject.
The Soft Bigotry of Low Expectations
First, and this is very important, I believe we MUST hold every student to highest possible expectations, and encourage them to reach as high as they can go. The “soft bigotry of low expectations” is a very real phenomenon.
We have to recognize that, prior to the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Laws of the 1960s, racism and classism was openly tolerated and endorsed in American society, and it also was a real factor in our schools. Many students were encouraged to take the easy track, the non-college bound track, and sometimes that become equated to getting enrolled in vocational education. Vocational education was once considered high skilled training, but over several decades, vocational education was watered down to become simply job training or something mostly for low-performing students, not preparation for a skilled career. Many adults today clearly remember being told “you’re not college material,” even though they wanted to go to college. Tracking decisions by educators for children, based on their perceived ability and their place in society is a painful, and not distant, memory.
That’s why people who carry these memories have some natural hesitations to pathways. Are pathways really a form of “tracking” with a new label placed on it? God forbid!!
Today’s Workforce Reality
The data on today’s workforce is clear: most careers that offer decent incomes require some sort of postsecondary education, training and/or apprenticeship beyond high school. According to analysis from the Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce, about 65 percent of current and near-future jobs actually require postsecondary education and training beyond high school.i And to succeed in any decent career, whether or not it requires postsecondary education, the individual will need a strong foundation of excellent reading, writing, mathematical, problem-solving and interpersonal skills. These skills and knowledge are also indispensable for personal life success and civic engagement.
We can’t be too clear in communicating with our youth, “You need strong skills to get ahead in careers and life. If you think you can just coast through school, you’ll have a very rude awakening and lots of regrets when you enter adult life.”
The High Expectations Message Goes Astray
In the early 2000’s when I was at the U.S. DoE, we launched a program called “State Scholars” which was based on a business-led program in Texas called “the Texas Scholars Program.” Through this initiative, business volunteers would go into middle school classrooms, particularly in schools that had a high ratio of under-privileged students whose parents had not experienced college. The message of the business volunteers was, “push yourself to take challenging academic courses so you can get into college.” Around the same time, several states (Indiana’s Core 40 program comes to mind) were enacting policies so that a challenging college-prep academic course route was set as the “default” program, meaning students would be enrolled in that program unless they actively opted out, with parental consent and sign-off.
The core message communicated through this program was great – work hard, take challenging classes, don’t drift down toward the path of least resistance.
However, in retrospect, I think there was another message that was implicit and problematic – “going to a four-year college/university is the best route to success.”
The “university for all” message doesn’t fit with today’s reality. The truth is there are many good careers that provide a path to social mobility that DON’T require a four-year degree for entry. So should the four-year degree really be the default expectation for every student? Even very bright students may not find a university education is the best fit for their aptitudes and interests.
Getting Our Message Straight
Instead of promoting a one-size-fits-all message that “everyone goes to university” and anything less is second-class, we should articulate a more fact-based approach that helps youths consider all of their career options, and then make a personal decision about what kind of education and training they want and need after high school.
Let’s have an honest dialogue about this in our schools and communities, and with our students and parents. Success should not be measured by how many students enroll in a college or university, but by how many students make successful transitions to career and life success over the long term.
i Carnevale, A. P., Smith, N., & Strohl, J. (2010): Recovery: Job growth and education requirements through 2020 [Executive summary, page 4]. Retrieved from https://cew.georgetown.edu/wp-content/uploads/2014/11/Recovery2020.ES.Web.pdf
Adapted from, The Power and Promise of Pathways, by Hans Meeder.
In education, we encourage our students (and staff members) to ask questions. The fact they are asking relevant questions shows they are engaged in the topic.
Whenever I’m leading a Pathways workshop, there are several common-sense questions that pop up in people’s minds. Here are the two I hear most often: Will students be locked into a pathway? And, isn’t it unrealistic to expect 15-year olds to make career decisions? You’ve probably had and heard the same questions. Here’s how I try to answer them.
Will students be locked into a pathway?
There’s no one way to handle this, but most schools allow students to change their pathway at least one time during high school. Allowing students to change pathways multiple times does create some scheduling challenges, however. If too many upper classmen are permitted to start a new pathway and enroll in an introductory course, they may take the spot of an underclassman and ultimately prohibit him/her from completing the pathway by graduation.
Offering a well-designed pathway exploration process during middle school or in ninth grade is a good strategy to minimize pathway program changes during high school. If students have a substantive opportunity to experience a number of pathways for a few days or weeks, they are more likely to select a pathway program that is a good fit. Further, when all pathway programs include a strong foundation of transferable knowledge and skills development, all students will graduate ready for postsecondary education or training even if they complete a pathway program that no longer holds a strong career interest for them.
Isn’t it unrealistic to ask 15-year-olds to make career decisions?
Yes. Most 15 or 16-year-olds are not mature enough and do not have enough life experience to make a decision about a career. Of course, there are exceptions. The pathways system model does not ask students to make definitive career decisions. In fact, at the high school level, a pathway program is really an applied form of career exploration. When students select a pathway program, they and their parents should understand this is a career exploration decision rather than a career decision.
In some of my upcoming postings, I’m going to address other frequently asked questions. Would you take a moment and send me a note about the questions you have, or the ones you hear frequently? Also, feel free to let me know how you like to answer the question and I may reference that too. Email Hans at PathwaysSherpa@nc3t.com.
(This post is adapted from Chapter 3 of The Power and Promise of Pathways)
Last week, Phi Delta Kappa released its annual survey report on American attitudes toward education. One of the group’s annual questions has to do with the fundamental purpose of education.
Before I share the results, I wonder, how would you answer this question?
The fundamental purpose of education is:
- To prepare students with academic skills.
- To prepare students for work
- To prepare students for citizenship.
The big finding form the report is – A majority of Americans do not agree that any one of these options in the major purpose of education. A little fewer than 50% said “academic skills” were most important, and about an even number of the remainder said “Work” or “Citizenship.”
Personally, I believe the question itself reflects a big disconnect in the way our leaders think about education. If we are really thinking about our students as just actual people who will have lives after K-12 education, we know they are going to need to be prepared in all three ways. They must have the fundamental learning skills to grow and adapt throughout their lives; but they are going to discover how to have a meaningful career, and they need to be active, responsible citizens.
Hey, this is beginning to sound like “Career and Life Readiness.” In the NC3T Pathways Systems model, we identify the first major component as Identifying and Defining the knowledge, skills and competencies that youth and young adults need to be “Career and Life Ready.”
It’s not Academics, or Work, or Citizenship. It’s all of the above – Career and Life Readiness!
We have a business start-up problem, and there’s something Pathway Programs and Pathway Systems can do to help. According to a World Bank researcher writing a report for The Center for American Progress, the rates of individuals in the U.S. starting businesses grew significantly in the 1970’s, 80’s and 90’s. At the beginning of this period, about 3 percent of Americans started a new business every year, and it grew up to 5 percent. But since the early 2000’s, that percentage of new business start-ups has stagnated and even fallen. If previous trends had continued, we would now have 1 million more entrepreneurs than we actually do in the United States.[i]
It seems likes it is getting harder or riskier to start a business. Now, the average person starting a business is older than in the past (47 years vs. 41 years), has more college education (67% vs. 60%) and also needs more savings/capital than in the past.
These are mega-trends that I’m sure are driven by many forces. But it is holding the middle class back from job creation and income growth. And it reinforces the need for stronger entrepreneurship and micro-enterprise training across all our nation’s career pathways and career-related programming.
Traditional career technology education programs, in large part, were built primarily around technical skills as well as developing general workplace employability skills. But during the heyday of American industry, we had an expectation that individuals would work for large organizations. So traditional CTE programs were focused on developing “workers,” not business owners.
For many career technical education programs, the only real place that entrepreneurship was emphasized was inside some of the business education programs. Now, this dynamic has changed a bit, although I don’t know if there is any definitive research. I have seen and heard about career-related programs having units around entrepreneurship and small business management relating to the particular career areas – such as starting a hair salon, a restaurant, or doing estimating for a construction company.
While progress has been made, I suspect there is still massive room for expansion of entrepreneurship training. Even for the students that don’t have the natural temperament or interest in becoming an entrepreneur themselves, they may very well work in a micro-enterprise (1-3 people) or a very small business (fewer than 10 people), where they will be interacting with the business owner/founder on a day-to-day basis. Every “worker” in these small enterprises needs to think like a business owner and understand how their work intersects with sales, marketing, customer services, human resources, and strategy — identifying opportunities for new business growth. I’m blessed to have colleagues in NC3T that think this way.
So, we may still need stand-alone entrepreneurship training for individuals who are highly enterprising by temperament and who just want to be in business — any type of business. But many others are drawn first to the career and skills; these folks need to understand entrepreneurship within the context of a particular career or occupation. To address this important need, our schools should create entrepreneurship strands that connect to and support all of our career-pathway and CTE programs.
To further this work, we have included entrepreneurship and small business concepts into the integrated definition of Career and Life Readiness that NC3T uses with its pathway system implementation sites.
So, as we pursue our motto of “Every Learner with a Dream and Plan,” we should remember that part of that dream and plan is for every learner to think about and consider how to one day be a business owner; the dream and plan is not just to find economic opportunity for oneself, but to offer it to others too through a growing and thriving enterprise!
[i]Mondragón-Vélez, C. (2015, May 21). How does middle-class financial health affect entrepreneurship in America? Retrieved from https://www.americanprogress.org/issues/economy/report/2015/05/21/109169/how-does-middle-class-financial-health-affect-entrepreneurship-in-america/