LONG AGO (15+ years) I did a short stint between editing jobs as a high-school science teacher. It was a small school in a very rural farm community. Counting the number of students who were going to graduate and follow the “traditional” path to a four-year college degree wouldn’t have required much more than ten fingers.
The accompanying photo reminded me of those students. I snagged it from the flotsam that drifts through social media. There is no reference for the numbers, but a quick effort with Google indicated that they are close enough to make the point.
The administration at the high school made a smart move long before I arrived. They set up a vocational program with a nearby community college. The program served a large portion of the student body and, I’m convinced, saved more than one life from less-desirable results. While many of the students were going to finish high school and go back to the farm, a good portion didn’t really have much future once they graduated, if they did. The program gave them skills and, in many cases, an internship and a good job once they finished school. For many, that translated to incentive to complete high school. It also had definite parental support because it gave parents the comfort of seeing a tangible future for their children.
Fast forward to today. While trade/vocational schools have always had a presence in education, the skills gap has amplified their importance and expanded the number of skills/trades that need to be met. The biggest barrier? The entrenched parental expectation in many communities that children need to go directly from high school to a four-year university. The unspoken part is that a number of those students are better off acquiring a skill, applying it in one of the thousands of unfilled industry jobs, and moving forward with their lives.
The first step is to convince parents that there are other and better options for their children. Not an easy task. One place to start is for manufacturers, the ultimate beneficiaries of skilled workers, to work with schools and other community organizations to develop programs that show parents and students the benefits of the vocational-education path. Some are already doing just that. The people at Uponor are one example and they touch on their efforts in the “Workforce” column on p. 32.
Another, very comprehensive, program that’s already paying dividends is under the direction of Jason Green, Vice President of Human Resources at ABB, Ft. Smith, AR. Green and his team are taking a multi-faceted approach that involves all components in the community equation. Learn more by listening to a podcast I recorded with Jason Green at efficientplantmag.com/2010abb.
If your company is thinking about undertaking a effort to develop a future workforce, the ABB program is a good place to learn how to do it and I can assure you that Jason Green will be more than willing to share his experiences. Remember that the key to success for any program is to demonstrate to parents that there is a legitimate path to success for their children.