Committee aims to put kids on paths to success
As kids head back to school, that timeless question asked of children is as important today as ever: “What do you want to be when you grow up?”
Because not everyone can be a ballerina or a football player, we need to do more than ask the question. We need to make sure students are aware of the fields and professions that will be in high demand in the future.
I serve on a study committee that heard testimony about the “skills gap,” the shortage of workers with the skills necessary to fill the available jobs.
The Special Committee on Improving Educational Opportunities in High School is looking at ways to ensure that high school students have the skills necessary to meet the future workforce needs of employers.
Instead of simply bemoaning the lack of workers with adequate skills, some employers set up their own training programs, partnering with high schools and technical colleges to teach students the manufacturing skills needed for jobs at these facilities.
Another idea to address the skills gap is to create a database so technical colleges, employers and school guidance counselors can track job trends. The database would show what jobs are available now and that are likely to be available in the years ahead.
Yet another idea is for every student starting in sixth grade to have an academic and career plan that reflects their interests and strengths. Parents, teachers and others would help develop the plan. The plan would be an evolving document.
First choices for possible careers may not be a student’s final one. All throughout high school, students would be encouraged to explore career options so they are not drifting aimlessly after graduation.
Some schools organize their classes into “career academies.” Each academy exposes students to a variety of related professions. They learn how their classroom instruction applies to various jobs.
One task for our special committee is to figure out how state government can be a better partner in all of this. One thing we can do is to identify what has worked well in school districts around the state. Our committee has heard about innovative approaches in a few districts, but dozens or hundreds of other examples may be out there. State government could find the most promising strategies and share them with all of the school districts.
We can also make sure existing state law does not get in the way of those promising strategies. Maybe something we thought was a good idea a couple of decades ago is now just a time-consuming, resource-consuming mandate for schools.
Those are among the questions the special committee will tackle. There will be no single overarching solution. And it is never easy doing big reforms. But a lot of promising ideas and successful innovations are going on across the state.
I welcome your ideas and comments.
Sen. Tim Cullen, D-Janesville, represents most of Rock County and the Whitewater area in the state Senate. He can be reached at 1-800-334-1468 or by email at Sen. Cullen@legis.wi.gov.