The Plea for “Manufacturing Career-Ready Workers”
It is interesting and disconcerting that this article of several years ago—Digital Natives, Yet Strangers to the Web—still rings true today. While many districts across the nation have forged ahead as early or middle-level adopters of ed-tech, it is still true that not all learners have consistent access to the kinds of tools required for successful futures.
I recently participated in an event sponsored by numerous automotive industry leaders. They invited superintendents from Michigan to collaborate with them on how to develop the talent needed to fill the thousands of "new" manufacturing/auto/tech jobs that are emerging across sixteen state counties. The event organizers presented data and profiles about these jobs. They discussed different avenues of preparing high schoolers for these positions and they actively sought the district leaders’ ideas.
The industry leaders taught me a lot about how manufacturing jobs have been transformed. To be employed in this pathway, one needs to be highly technically skilled and experienced. This includes knowledge of content, technology application, and systems integration. These are highly complex jobs that require expertise not only in core standard curricula but in relevant uses of technology tools.
And there is a void of talented candidates in Michigan to fill these jobs. Across sixteen Michigan counties—the bedrock of high-tech development and engineering jobs—the companies are struggling to find talent to fill positions. Many have instituted internships and co-op work that are fed by local school districts. The profile of career technical schools has shifted dramatically. Where there exists high caliber, rigorous applied learning programs focused on integrated disciplines and the fusion of technologies, they are producing "ready-to go" employees. They are being placed immediately in top-notch positions that posture them for continued career growth and opportunities.
Now back to the superintendents’ ideas for the industry leaders. The educators said they needed more career and guidance counselors, more money for more programs, and help from the auto industry. None of them mentioned the moral imperative for ensuring their learners had the technology needed to make learning experiences relevant and applicable to real-life problem solving and careers. Two of the superintendents in the room had developed wonderful 1:1 programs and cybersecurity instructional programs that were helping leapfrog students into the future. Those superintendents didn’t speak up. The others could have learned mightily from them. One superintendent of a prominent district grabbed the microphone and walked around the room touting the need for a new breed of counselor and teacher prepared for teaching in this century. We can all agree with that, but the district she represents is one of the most traditional, non-technologically advanced in the state! I was amazed at the lack of leadership vision, action, and knowledge regarding what is required for jobs today and tomorrow and how schools need to respond.
Shortly after that meeting, I learned from the Principal at NexTech Academy of Lansing that he had met with a number of teachers at the county’s career and technical center. Quite a few of his students participate in programs at the center. Each teacher with whom the principal spoke told him that NexTech sends the most premier students to their programs. They are head-over-heels beyond the students from other high schools because they actually know how to effectively use technologies within their skill/content areas. The teachers noted that with the other schools’ students, they have to teach them how to use and integrate the tech tools as well as master the content. It’s double duty for the teachers and most significantly for the learners.
Learning this, I thought about the auto industry leaders’ pleas for talent development. I thought about the mission of well-implementing 1:1 technologies in the schools that I’ve supported for 15 years. When we first began this work, we knew it was a frontier most schools avoided because of cost and their lack of understanding and prognosticating what the world would expect from students in a few short years. Those years have come and gone. We’re into the next iteration of needs and expectations. That’s what the auto folk were telling us…no, begging us to understand.
NexTech Academy isn’t the only school doing the right work with the right tools with their learners. But they are in a minority across our nation. There is an uptick in schools’ acquiring technologies. Still, those acquisitions are seldom accompanied by vision, effective strategy, high-quality leadership and a focus on learner outcomes.
There is work to be done even recognizing progress is underway. High-quality leadership for change and the future is required.