Schools embrace career pathways but can they be dead ends?

DUBLIN, GA-The Victor Forstmann textile plant in east Dublin shut down in 2007 after 60 years. KENT D. JOHNSON/kdjohnson@ajc.com

Over coffee in Orlando at the Project Lead The Way national summit last month, the nonprofit’s president and CEO Vince Bertram told me about three questions he once asked a gathering of manufacturing managers. Every hand shot up in response to the first two: How many had unfilled jobs and how many had unfilled high-paying jobs?

No hands raised in response to the third question: How many would want their own children to take those jobs?

That’s because those leaders knew their available jobs would someday disappear, lost to automation or relocation, said Bertram.

The solution — and the basis of Project Lead The Way’s efforts in 10,000 schools — is to excite k-12 students about fields resistant to obsolescence, including engineering, bio-medicine and computers. Bertram and Project Lead The Way promote math and science competency through applied learning and encourage a STEM focus in college.

While Bertram says college can be an expensive way for distracted teens to find themselves, he also stresses that a four-year degree remains a proven stepping stone to financial security. However, he says students have to do  college wisely so they don’t end up easily replaceable commodities in an economy that evolves quickly and without mercy. Graduates must leave campus literate in data analytics and skilled in business administration, computers and communications if they hope to be valued.

Before sitting down with Bertram, I attended an Atlanta forum on the future of work. Several speakers talked about how Georgia students need alternatives to four-year degrees. Schools need more apprenticeships and business partnerships. They ought to invite local companies to share their workforce needs and tailor high school career pathways to those waiting jobs.

But how do we guarantee those jobs won’t fall victim to automation or relocation, that those career pathways won’t lead to a dead end?  And, if they do, what becomes of the workers?

A journalist who interviewed people who lost good-paying jobs after their industry moved to Mexico told the forum that the majority of workers resisted retraining programs for other jobs in the area. They were more comfortable with the idea of being unemployed than being retrained, she said. They were nervous about learning new technologies and coding.

That doesn’t surprise Jeff Strohl, director of research at the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce. “I would be scared, too, if my industry died,” he said in a telephone interview. “A lot of promises have been made to workers and not kept. Workers have to believe the training itself leads to immediate employment, not the promise of employment. I don’t think many people want to purposely go on nonstop unemployment but they also don’t want to make a bad gamble.”

The push for pathways concerns Strohl. “I have a problem with the career pathway model because they talk about first or entry jobs but are not focused tightly on how the entry becomes a career defined by upward job/career mobility,” he said. “We need to start looking at how people not only get into a good job, but how do we help them into the next job. We have a problem with dislocated workers. Someone gets a job and then the industry changes. It globalizes. It disappears.”

Strohl said the answer is finding a balance between general and specific skills. “Specific skills can get you through the door but are generally considered non-transferable and make the worker and economy non-flexible: General skills enable learning to learn which enables workers to leverage their skill sets in new environments.”

 

Reader Comments 0

10 comments
jerryeads
jerryeads

We don't agree too often, Lee, but we sure do here. I'm retired Ph.D statistics etc., and had a fun career with it, but I could go back and certify ASE (got bored with grad school for a while) and eat well - and love doing it. My kid w/ 2 semesters of college does ridiculously well in IT, but could with his resume drop into any 4 or 5 star eatery and do sous chef, or any Benz dealership in the country and fix fancy cars. 

My favorite plumber, thankfully, has a kid who's following in his footsteps and will take over that little one-horse when it's time, but how much fun have you had finding someone last time you were out of your fix-it-yourself comfort zone (for way too many of us, that's checking oil or replacing a toilet valve). 

That said, yeah, he and I are lucky, but WAY too many of us assume that anybody can cakewalk thru college and do a 4-year and THEN be adaptive enough to do something with it. 

Worse, we forget that it'll be a LONG time yet before the 0/1 machines can build a house, repair a car (driverless or no), fix your furnace when it breaks in February, or figure out why there's smoke coming from your breaker panel. 

Seems to me like we've really shafted the pooch over the last several decades focusing on (and devaluing) a 4- or more year degree at the expense of folks whose heads don't do well sitting in groups of 30 listening to somebody who hasn't ever done anything but write papers and read books (with apologies to my ivory tower colleagues).

Lee_CPA2
Lee_CPA2

Newsflash to Bertram and Strohl, this country still needs electricians, plumbers, truck drivers, utility linemen, mechanics, welders, pipefitters, ironworkers, instrument & controls technicians, hvac technicians, heavy equipment operators, carpenters, concrete finishers, brick masons, and a thousand other jobs that keep this country moving.  Some of these jobs are higher paying than others, some are more in demand, that's just the nature of a free economy.

I do agree that flexibility is a key success factor in today's economy, which is why you see HVAC contractors branching out to offer electrical and plumbing services in addition to their traditional heating and air conditioning services.


Having an engineering or bio-medical degree is nice, but seriously, how many high school students have the academic aptitude to pursue that career path?  Probably less than you think.  What is the other 90% supposed to do?

EddieHall
EddieHall

The problem is college is NOT for everyone, as bad some want it to be, it just is not. The ones who are not going to go to college need an education to prepare them for life, just like the ones who will go to college. The question is also, who holds the crystal ball that tells us which jobs will cease to exist? We are breaking our county budgets and doing all our students a disservice but trying to keep ALL students on a college track. I personally think a three pronged system, technical, college prep and general are the best choices, and when someone just does not want to be there, LET THEM GO. Don't penalize teachers or schools because a drop out rate goes up. They are holding back the rest and causing disruption. 

bu22
bu22

@EddieHall  Barely more than 30% of adults have 4 year degrees.  Barely over 40% even have a 2 year degree.  That's 60% of the population that is being pushed into a college prep path that isn't the way they will go.  High school should be more than just "pre-college."

Kathleen Carpenter
Kathleen Carpenter

And I would just add that for some reason, we think there are only two pathways--a university degree or entry-level work. We need better education for our students and their families about the "in-between" jobs. For example, I have an acquaintance who is head of the nursing department at a regional hospital. She started working for the hospital right out of high school and she now has a Masters Degree in nursing (guess who paid for that? not her). Racking up tens of thousands of dollars of student debt is not a good move when you have multiple industries that will pay your schooling as you go...

Kathleen Carpenter
Kathleen Carpenter

The folks talking in this article have very narrow knowledge of what a career pathway is. If you understand that everyone has a career pathway, then they are not dead ends. What the article is alluding to is actually professional versus entry level work. That is not equated with career pathways. My child wants to be a surgeon and she has a career pathway. My second child wants to be a violinist and she has a career pathway. My third child wants to own her own company and she has a career pathway.

mandingo 856
mandingo 856

Career pathways in this context is something that is defined by the GA DOE.  Specific pathways are offered by High Schools and vary school to school.  Counselors and most principals don't take it seriously, so the programs are mis-represented to parents and students.  If it's not AP, IB or something that helps there rankings in magazines, they don't want anything to do with it.

redweather
redweather

The real takeaway from this blog post is how distracted today's teens are. If you are a parent, please make the effort to help your children understand how social media and cellphones can undermine their efforts to succeed in school and life.

Just_Cause
Just_Cause

This is not the 1950's. We should be teaching students to be prepared to evolve as life evolves. Why can't people move if the job relocates? Why can't people change fields/career paths? The majority of the people I know doing the same job they were initially trained for are in education. Personally, I'm on my third career path. and this is the third metropolitan area I've lived. Let's prepare students for life, which doesn't have to include the same city/career path for their entire life.

Astropig
Astropig

@Just_Cause


Best comment I've read in a long time. Spot on. I noticed that you mentioned that you are on career path three,which tells me that you're adaptable and see things strategically,which keeps you ahead of about 95% of the workforce.I'd also hazard a guess that you are able to use skills learned in your earlier jobs to help you do your current job more efficiently. If you're not already self-employed (I'll try another guess),at some point,you will be,and darned happy at it.


The only "dead ends" in the job market that I have seen are jobs that you have no passion for,can't learn from and took for the wrong reasons.