With restored funding for high school career and technical education, the focus of Arizona education and industry leaders is now on creating clear roadmaps for young people that show them there is more than one road they can take to develop a successful career.
“Only about 30 percent of young adults nationally end up getting a college degree, so right away you can see that approach is leaving out about 70 percent of young people,” said Bill Symonds, director of Arizona State University’s Global Pathways Institute.
Career pathways must serve all young adults – including Latino and Native American students, those who are living in poverty, youth disconnected from school or work, and young people who have disabilities, Symonds said.
To do this, career development should become a central focus of education and workforce development with schools and industry collaborating closely to eliminate the disconnect between workforce needs and young people’s skills, Symonds said.
Types of programs
These career pathways include career and technical education courses at high schools, programs developed by Joint Technical Education Districts, partnerships with community colleges and initiatives like the Phoenix Indian Center’s Logic Model.
For the past two years, the Phoenix Indian Center has been running a youth college and career readiness program they developed “to catch those American Indian students who are falling through the cracks here within Maricopa County,” said Patricia Hibbeler, CEO of the Phoenix Indian Center.
The program’s model places the student at the center with a vision to develop into leaders, graduates, relatives and professionals by focusing on communications skills, career exposure, parent engagement, mentorship, college preparation, community involvement, cultural education and drug and alcohol education through partnerships with businesses, schools, nonprofits and government agencies.
Through this, the center hopes to increase students’ healthy lifestyle choices, strengthen family relations, decrease negative behaviors, enhance cultural connections, increase graduation rates and pursue higher education and the career path they want.
“We’re all beginning to recognize more and more the importance of solid career pathways for all individuals to become productive citizens. Ultimately that’s what career and technical education is about,” said Greg Donovan, superintendent of West-MEC, a 14-year-old joint technical education district in the West Valley that serves about 21,000 students.
Why focus on career pathways?
Once a person sets a goal, the next step is to determine how to get there, said Scott Solberg, professor of education at Boston University during a presentation at the Southwest Pathways Conference last week in Scottsdale hosted by Global Pathways Institute and Arizona Business and Education Coalition.
Developing clear career pathways is how “we help all youth start driving their career process toward the goals they’ve identified based on looking at their skills, their education and their values,” Solberg said.
Many young people encounter significant roadblocks in their pathway to education and a career, said Maria Harper-Marinick, chancellor of Maricopa Community Colleges, a keynote speaker at the conference.
“Currently, there are 5.5 million youth between the ages of 16 and 24, who are what we know as Opportunity Youth, these are youth who are not in school and not working,” Harper-Marinick said. “At the same time, there are 3.5 million unfilled jobs.”
Harper-Marinick then introduced Alejandro Rojas, a former Opportunity Youth now receiving career training through Maricopa Community Colleges, the Year Up program and an internship.
Rojas said Year Up helps “individuals like me get career ready and be professional.”
“I’m in training for a program that teaches me Java and HTML, and at my internship they give me attention in the soft skills needed to be career ready so that I can develop my professional brand,” Rojas said. “I’m really thankful for what they’re doing.”
Brianna Koch, a graduate of Maricopa Center for Adolescent Parents, said the help she received from MCAP and Child & Family Resources has been invaluable on her on her pathway to study respiratory care at Carrington College.
Koch said she became pregnant her sophomore year of high school and started an online program, but that became difficult while raising a baby.
Maricopa Center for Adolescent Parents helped Koch prepare and earn her GED, provided parenting education and life skills classes and “they also provided a scholarship so my daughter could (attend childcare there and) come to school with me.”
What career pathways should have
There are four key elements in any career pathway, Donovan said.
- Lead to an occupational area
- Include quality laboratory experiences
- Provide work-based learning
- Develop leaders
A high-quality career and technical education program has “articulated programs from secondary to postsecondary, it’s tied to rigorous academics, and leads to a meaningful credential whether it’s a degree, certification or something else,” said Steve DeWitt, deputy executive director for the Association of Career and Technical Education, which is located in Alexandria, Va.
Internships are the most effective way to prepare students for career success, said Caroline VanIngen-Dunn, director of community college STEM pathways for the Science Foundation of Arizona.
Internships benefit students by providing work experience, which is a really important part of their educational development, and “these experiences reinforce classroom instruction for them and incentivize students to stay in their classrooms and gives them purpose in completing their education,” VanIngen-Dunn said.
After launching career pathways, data needs to be analyzed to determine if the program is successful, and while that can be time consuming, it is essential, said Wendi Morton, career and technical education coordinator for Utah’s State Office of Education.
“We’ve found that some (high-demand) programs have low enrollments, and we have high enrollments in others that don’t align with industry demands,” Morton said. “We are in the process of taking steps to rectify that.”
Policy and funding
Since 2013, states have taken a variety of approaches with their career and technical education policies, said Jennifer Zinth, director of high school and stem for the Education Commission of the States.
“California, in 2013, put a $250 million appropriation into their California Career Pathways Trust, which they re-upped in the last couple of legislative sessions,” Zinth said. “We saw other states that looked at teacher qualifications to see that CTE teachers had appropriate credentials.”
Nevada last year voted to triple funding for CTE while Arizona kept funding level, and many states now start CTE in 8th grade but in Arizona students have to wait until 10th grade Symonds said.
“While we restored funding in Arizona, many other states are dramatically improving in increasing their commitment to career and technical education,” Symonds said.
Some states began to look at career counseling and advisement to make sure that students and their families were aware of available career opportunities, while some looked at early college opportunities and dual enrollment, Zinth said.
All Arizonans – especially parents – need to “spend the time to educate our policy makers on how and why to make changes,” said Hugh Hallman, former Tempe mayor from 2004 to 2012.
That means contacting legislators when they’re out of session, talking with them face-to-face and presenting your case, Hallman said.
“Make sure they get real data and real information,” Hallman said.
More states are looking at accountability systems and data, Zinth said.
They are focusing on “getting data into the hands of teachers, students and their families, and school staff so that they are all aware of what the current job opportunities are, what salaries are, and what the education requirements are associated with this to ensure that high school students’ credentials are aligned with these high-demand, high-wage opportunities,” Zinth said.
Arizona needs to focus on how do we better prepare young people for the economy of the future and how do we better position education to be more responsive to the labor needs of the market, said Aaron Ball, director of college and career pathways for the Center for the Future of Arizona.
It’s also important to remember that no matter what pathway students take, they will always seek out more training as their careers develop and change, said Jill Kohler, founder and president of Penrose Academy in Scottsdale and member of the Arizona Commission for Postsecondary Education.