The McKinsey Global Institute has highlighted the traits of higher cognitive (critical thinking and complex information processing), social emotional (advanced communication and negotiation), and technological (data analysis and research) as the three key skill sets in demand from the workforce for 2030. Continually we state that we want students to have “21st century” skill sets, but what are those skills sets? As educators, we can learn best by asking the source. All of us have local community partners and businesses that are the economic engine for the communities in which we live.
Community and industry partners may not think of their local high schools as needing assistance and help, but we do. Their assistance in helping us define, articulate and teach the skills our students of today will need for tomorrow’s world of work is essential. Organizations throughout our communities need a qualified and competent workforce with individuals that are invested in developing and contributing to their industry. Here lies the perfect environment for a strategic relationship in which both objectives can be accomplished.
Recent research suggests that a comprehensive work-based learning experience includes three key components:
- Alignment of classroom and workplace learning
- Application of academic, technical, and employability skills in a work setting
- Support from classroom or workplace mentors.
With the emergence of career pathways, many schools are restructuring their curriculum offerings and handbooks to align and offer courses in a meaningful sequence within these pathways. The next step is to embed workplace learning and or internships. Students learn by doing. By intentionally exposing students to meaningful and related work experience before they enter postsecondary education, they will be in a strong position to explore options that will be a good match for their interests.
It is just as important to have a student participate in an internship or work experience to find out that they do not want to pursue a particular field as it is important for them to find an experience they identify and enjoy. The key is to offer a plethora of meaningful experiences that align and engage students within the career cluster or pathway of their choice. Gone are the days of having 25 stock internship experiences that have no meaningful self-discovery. It is not enough that we offer a potpourri of scattered experiences if they do not lead to a succinct sequence of events including components such as job placement, youth apprenticeship, workplace learning, or early college credit.
An example of a complementary relationship in my district benefiting students and the broader community is our effort to address the national teacher shortage crisis and, specifically, the lack of underrepresented ethnicities within the teaching profession. We have worked to establish a “grow your own teacher” model that engages the whole community. Students identified in the education pathway and committed to the Educator Prep program begin their journey with an all-district student signing. This is much like the process of student athletes committing to a specific college or university. When these students enter the program, the benefits include the following:
- Workplace learning experience supporting the local school-based preschool
- Workplace learning experience in the elementary or middle school
- Students teach a full lesson with an elementary or middle school teacher
- They earn 2 to 3 early college education classes while in high school (allowing them to transfer-in and receive credit towards their degree) and gain full exposure to college education academia
- Once in college, receive targeted identified professional development opportunities within elementary, middle, or high school setting of their choice
- If attending the partner postsecondary, receive a guaranteed student teaching placement back in our community
- Guaranteed an interview if there is a curricular opening upon completion of student teaching or internship
With this program, we have elementary and middle schools committed to offering workplace learning experience while the student is in high school, a postsecondary partner engaged in the learning through the early college credit coursework, and all partners working together to align professional development opportunities that align with student learning from high school through postsecondary. This is a proactive and holistic approach to the growing teacher shortage and illustrates our community coming together to answer a real world challenge.
What is working in your community to support students in their readiness for life beyond high school?
Dr. Matt Liberatore, LCPC is the director of professional learning and student services for Township High School District 214, president of the Illinois School Counselor Association, and senior advisor to Intellispark.