Changing times in employment need change in message in the schools
JANESVILLE More students would stay in high school and local manufacturers would have a better pool of prospective employees if area school districts introduced students to the values of technical education at a younger age, a Blackhawk Technical College vice president said.
“We need to do a much better job in the middle schools. I happen to think we’d have lower dropout rates if there was more of a technical/career emphasis at that age,” said Sharon Kennedy, vice president of learning at Blackhawk Technical College.
“We’ve got to change the message that technical school is less rigorous, that it’s the place for people who are not as cognitively successful as others,” she said.
Jim Morgan, president of the WMC Foundation, agrees that educators, parents and the media still cling to the misguided notion that manufacturing is dirty, dark and dangerous.
WMC Foundation recently conducted statewide listening sessions on the so-called skills gap.
“What seems to be missing in the current system is a broad understanding by today’s students of the jobs available,” Morgan wrote in a recent WMC column. “They simply cannot select an occupation that they don’t know exists.”
Today’s students, he said, don’t know what a welder or CNC operator does. They’ve never seen the inside of a modern-day, advanced manufacturing facility, and they don’t have accurate job data and salary information, he said.
Morgan said he understands the frustrations of Wisconsin manufacturers who say they can’t get the qualified employees they need to climb out of the economic downturn.
Employers, however, must shoulder part of the burden for talking up a changing manufacturing sector that offers plenty of family-supporting jobs, Morgan said.
‘A full understanding’
Morgan said 30 percent of the future jobs in Wisconsin would require a bachelor’s degree, which means 70 percent will not. Of the latter, the vast majority will require technical education beyond high school.
“If every 16-year-old and their parents have all of this information and a full understanding and open mind to all occupations available, we will work through this shortage,” he said.
Morgan said that requires a different definition of success, perhaps one in which children are healthy and happy, doing something they love and living comfortably.
The age-old definition, at least in terms of education, is that a master’s degree is better than a bachelor’s degree, which is better than a technical degree, which is better than work experience, he said.
“The workplace is not that linear and easily defined,” Morgan said. “Right now, there are shortages of engineers, welders, CNC operators, machinists and masons. Some of those require work experience, some apprenticeships, some technical degrees, some fouryear degrees or more.
“Let’s make sure everyone knows the market, because the market will drive us to success.”
A recent survey of 2,500 Rock County high school students shows only a handful had an interest in a career in manufacturing.
Rock County 5.0, in collaboration with a subcommittee of the Leadership Development Academy and the Stateline Career and Technical Education Academy, conducted the survey to learn how students form career aspirations, what those aspirations are and whether the students plan to go on to school, enter the military or join the workforce.
More than 2,500 students responded to the survey, which found:
Sixty percent plan to go to a four-year college or university, while 19 percent plan to pursue a technical or associate degree.
Of those thinking about technical careers, just 2.1 percent indicated an interest in manufacturing.
The majority of kids start thinking about careers in middle school.
Most want more information on careers.
Seventy percent said they had no exposure to a class, program, internship or co-op program that would prepare them for their chosen career field.
James Otterstein, Rock County’s economic development director, said the survey results will not gather dust. Instead, they will be used to marry the common interests of education and industry.
“The idea is to match career information to what’s actually happening in the marketplace,” he said. “I think one thing that c o m e s through loud and clear is that there’s a definite need for career counselors that match skill sets with interests and the market.”
“We need more interaction between the business community and education, and we’re not talking about one-day job fairs.”
Later this week, local manufacturer United Alloy will launch an internship for local welding students.