This blog series will share lessons from national organizations working to build career pathways with support from state leadership. Each post will highlight one provider and share a cornerstone element to their strategy for others consider in their own development of career pathways.
For many young people, it can be difficult to make the connection between what they are learning in school and how it will apply after graduation. The path from high school to a successful career is not always obvious, and students need educational experiences that provide insight into the application of academic and technical skills as it relates to possible future careers.
The Advanced Career Pathways model developed by the Southern Regional Education Board (SREB) creates project-based, academic experiences to connect what students learn in school and the skills they will need after they graduate to pursue a career in a high-wage, high-skill industry in the regional economy.
To develop these experiences, state leaders and employers collaborate to align curriculum with workforce needs. SREB’s Advance Career Pathways model includes four courses that focus on a solid academic core in mathematics and English, in-depth projects that align closely with a specific career field, and regular feedback and input from instructors. To date, curriculums have been developed in eight industries. When implemented at high schools, students are provided with navigable pathways to a degree, or a recognized industry certificate linked to a high-need industry in the region.
“Our role is to try and find the method that truly adds value to the individual, to the economy, and the employers.” —Gene Bottoms, Senior Vice President of SREB
Critical to the success is collaboration from state, school, and workforce leaders to customize the pathways to accommodate the specific priorities and conditions of each particular state. For example, in West Virginia, SREB helped design a project-based program in which students work on engineering projects such as the Energy and Power Curriculum at Jefferson High School. The final course in the sequence provides an opportunity to develop a project aimed at creating a viable source of alternative energy from the resources available in the community. Students are mentored by a retired science teacher, several power company employees, and a retired engineering instructor from the local college.
In Alabama, where there has been a long-standing and thriving aerospace industry, SREB helped a high school develop an aeronautics engineering program with guidance from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. The course sequence includes a multisemester project to sketch, measure, and design a rocket nose cone that students will test in a wind tunnel at a local plant.
How can states begin to purposefully connect education and industry? A common first step is to build relationships between employers and state-level education leaders. Having employer participation from the start could be helpful for other states that are interested in developing similar pathways. Business leaders can take the lead on identifying the high-demand and high-skill economic sectors.
To inform the development of specific career pathways and related courses, business and industry must also share with district leaders and educators the competencies needed by the future workforce, such as technical skills and employer-desired traits. Strong relationships between educators and business leaders and clearly defined desired skills and abilities can provide opportunities for teachers to connect students with business leaders for mentors and on-the-job experience.
Finally, both education and industry must commit to a continued dialogue to build and refine career pathways and related courses to ensure they align with both academic standards and advancements in the career field. The partnership between education and industry must be sustained to support the continuation of career pathways.
George Knowles is the Digital Communication Associate at the American Youth Policy Forum.