FORBES.COM | POSTED ON JULY 10, 2017
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Co- Authored by Rafael Alvarez and Nicole Truhe
As Congress considers the reauthorization of the 2006 Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act, we have an opportunity to reshape career and technical education to foster a strong 21st-century economy.
The law was intended to ensure secondary schools were a springboard to a successful and meaningful career by supporting career and technical education (CTE) and strengthening the connections between secondary and postsecondary education.
Given that U.S. employers cite a shortage of qualified workers as the greatest obstacle to growth, we need to redesign CTE so that it fuels the talent pipeline and prepares our future workforce for the high-skilled, high-wage and high-demand careers of the modern age.
First, we need to break down the misconception that CTE is only for non-college bound students to access decent, middle-class jobs. Career and technical education are critical for all students. We should not distinguish between low-performing and high-performing students, or those college-bound and entering the workforce immediately after graduation. All students need to experience first-hand the connections between what they are learning in school and a potential career.
We also need to ensure that the skills we teach students align with the specific needs of today’s employers, and strengthen the connection between them. The best way to do that is through internships.
The opportunity for students to work in a field that interests them while they are in school has been proven to put students on track to not only graduate high school, but to access and persist in higher education and succeed in their future careers. This is particularly true for disadvantaged youth, who may not have had exposure to a wide variety of career options.
Innovative nonprofit organizations, like Genesys Works, partners with schools to offer work-based learning opportunities for students, while also meeting the needs of local businesses. The program includes a one-year internship that kicks off with a summer training program, where students learn professional and technical skills. After their training, they are placed in a paid internship at companies, such as AT&T, Accenture, 3M and Salesforce.com — and gain access to valuable work experience, mentors and college and career coaching. The results are remarkable: 93 percent of students enroll in college, and 71 percent have graduated or are still enrolled.
Take Bonsa for example, a graduate of the Twin Cities Genesys Works program who emigrated to the U.S. from Ethiopia when he was just a teenager. A corporate career path at first seemed unattainable to Bonsa, who was new to American culture and the English language. However, after he was accepted and completed the technical and professional summer trainings, he was equipped to take on a yearlong, paid internship with Metronic as an IT technician.
Shaped by his work experiences and mentors he gained along the way, he ultimately decided on a new career path in computer science and graduated from the University of Minnesota. He’s now a software engineer at Minneapolis-based Clientech.
These internships show high school students what is possible and give them the motivation to graduate high school and pursue career goals that they didn’t know existed before their internship. They develop workplace skills and confidence —lifelong assets that would be difficult to obtain in the classroom.
Rigorous, meaningful, well-designed work-based learning experiences should be at the core of career and technical education for all high school students. As the demand for well-trained and high-skilled professionals increases, it’s time we rethink the meaning and purpose of career and technical education — and time for our leaders in Congress to support quality programs that equip students with relevant skills, promote diversity and help the economy thrive.
Rafael Alvarez is the founder & CEO of Genesys Works, a nonprofit social enterprise changing the trajectory of life for disadvantaged high school students through meaningful work experiences.
Nicole Truhe is the Director of Government Affairs at America Forward, the nonpartisan policy initiative of national venture philanthropy fund New Profit that seeks to break down barriers between all people and opportunity in America.
High Growth Entrepreneurs Plan to Continue Growing,” Kauffman Foundation, http://www.kauffman.org/newsroom/high-growth-entrepreneurs-plan-to-continue-growing.aspx