West Michigan rebounded from the 2007-09 recession by exceeding job growth in the nation as a whole by 500 percent. To continue that trend, business and education must work hand-in-hand to help students get a better understanding of the world of work and the skills required to succeed.
So what does closer cooperation between education and business look like?
More career exploration, hands-on training, focused counseling, stronger technical training and the employability skills of critical thinking, problem solving, teamwork and communication, conclude the W.E. Upjohn Institute researchers who penned the report for Talent 2025.
The institute advised the Talent 2025 CEOs who commissioned the report to:
- Work with the region’s school districts and ISDs to provide greater access to more hands on training in information technologies, advanced manufacturing and health careers;
- Promote the ACT National Career Readiness Certificate system as a measure of skill attainment;
- Partner with schools to increase the resources and roles of counseling staff to assist middle- and high-school students in career exploration and attainment;
- Partner with ISDs to better integrate instruction on the employability skills of problem solving, team building, leadership and communication;
- Offer more apprenticeships and internships; and
- Better refine community indicators to set collective goals, map assets, maximize resources and fill talent gaps.
Educators in the region are responding. Kent, Muskegon and Ottawa intermediate school districts and their member school districts joined together to pursue legislative policy to achieve these goals through the creation of the West Michigan Talent Triangle. All have adopted the goals of kindergarten readiness, third-grade reading proficiency, eighth-grade math proficiency and career/college readiness.
Superintendents from more than 80 districts this past spring committed their districts to participation in the Reading Now Network, which is a collaborative effort among their districts, their teachers and their building leaders to better understand and share strategies to improve early literacy among diverse student populations. Field studies initiated in April analyzed the first five elementary buildings throughout the region with reading scores much higher than their peers with similar student demographics.
Upjohn data demonstrates the urgency of these partnerships. To meet employment projections through 2025, the percentage of working adults with a post-secondary degree must grow from 33 percent to 43 percent and the number of medium to high-skilled jobs requiring advanced education will grow by 30 percent, while low-skilled job growth is projected at just 1.3 percent.
Already behind middle-American employment regions such as Milwaukee, South Bend and Omaha, it is essential that our region work hard to achieve accelerated educational achievement goals or risk losing the jobs we have – and our ability to attract new jobs and new residents to the region – to other parts of the nation and the world, said the Upjohn report, released in late 2013.
Just two years ago, just 15 percent of the nearly 2,500 students who attend Kent Career Technical Center programming were engaged in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) programming. Today, a third of Tech Center students are enrolled in STEM programs. The goal is for 30 percent of ALL high school students to participate in STEM programming and career exploration as STEM related employment in the region will exceed 27 percent by 2022.
The recent growth in STEM studies at the Tech Center demonstrate we can meet these goals with the business partnerships recommended in the Upjohn report. It won’t be easy, however, as the integration of business and education at the Tech Center was decades in the making.
Reaching these goals will require all involved to reach out, find ways to provide more student interactions with business, and to acknowledge that college preparation and career preparation are no longer mutually exclusive.