Skilled labor is a critical need for any business; construction, urban agriculture, and food service operations, healthcare services and several other fields are in dire need of specially trained personnel.
Firms throughout the nation have begun to take the initiative to assure that future employment needs will be adequately met. By partnering with innovative high schools and community colleges, some business professionals have found that they can directly influence the development of specialized training programs.
These unique efforts pair educators and business leaders in a mutually beneficial effort. The kind of curriculum that best meets the needs of the business is written and tested jointly, and both sides share the burden of making it effective. Some companies offer work-study programs, or internship situations to further engage students and attract future employees.
It’s a dramatic change of focus for vocational education, one that offers to grow, and potentially unlimited future benefits for students, the schools involved, and the companies. The concept also offers a new direction for career-minded students, one that can get them into the workforce not only faster but with a step up toward future advancement and earning power.
The Future of Employment
Steady work, adequate pay, and a satisfying career path are often difficult goals, however, with this new joint effort, those goals become more realistic. Benefits also accrue to military veterans who return from service and seek civilian employment. Their experience and relative maturity often make them ideal candidates for specialized courses; employers find them to be well trained and highly motivated, in some ways the “cream of the crop.”
Still, many of the most exciting specialized programs have their roots in high school today and represent a revitalization of traditional (but disappearing) vocational education classes. While home economics courses, along with woodshop, welding and auto mechanics have all but disappeared, some high schools and even junior highs offer entrepreneurship classes for budding business owners.
Community colleges don’t only serve as an interim step for some students who plan to transfer to four-year universities but are also increasingly an environment for specialized training that leads directly to a career. These schools welcome older students as well as high school graduates and are expanding their programs to offer concurrent class registration to high school students on an accelerated path. Much of the excitement of these programs is due to this mix of abilities, a variety of perspective, and the ability to meet diverse needs at the same time.
The Building Science and Construction Technologies program at Santa Fe Community College (SFCC) has for many years offered a comprehensive approach to addressing the need for entry-level apprentices in the field of construction. The program now includes architecture and design curriculum, adobe construction classes, green building, solar energies and sustainable technologies, plumbing, HVAC, and several other specialties, all under the umbrella of the School of Trades, Technology, Sustainability & Professional Studies.
Many other two-year trade programs exist throughout the country, but Santa Fe’s is somewhat unique because initial efforts for construction trades training was spurred several decades ago by a local homebuilder, with the support of trade associations and the Association of Home Builders. Efforts were initially aimed at high schoolers and sought to counteract climbing school dropout rates while offering students opportunities to learn a trade.
Culinary Arts and Controlled Environment Agriculture
SFCC is also a leader in the field of sustainability and urban agriculture, with a comprehensive program that is still being refined, to include classes on hydroponics and aquaponics, alternative energy and biofuels, and the global impact of food production and delivery. It is one of the only two-year institutions in the country to offer certification and an associate’s degree in controlled environment agriculture. Another innovative curriculum exists at Cornell and at the University of Arizona in Tucson.
Culinary arts classes for future cooks and restaurant owners, in addition to school gardens and greenhouses, have found wide acceptance at the high school level in many states. One such program in the Dallas area incorporates a student-run restaurant into the curriculum.
Cafe Smith, located within Newman Smith High School in the Carrollton-Farmers Branch Independent School District, serves weekly lunches to teachers and administrators during the school year. The curriculum allows students to cycle through various restaurant jobs while gaining overall experience. At Newman Smith, culinary program participants also have an option for participation in an “externship” at a local business during their junior or senior year, offering an exemplary introduction into future food service careers.
A number of innovative programs exist in Dallas: Local chefs partner with juvenile detention centers to give supervised restaurant experience to at-risk youth; returning veterans have opportunities to work with community gardens, urban farmers and restaurants to learn new skills; and school gardens, campus greenhouses, beekeeping classes, and soil-free growing methods are the subject of both private and publicly-funded alternative programs. Business owners are involved at all levels.
Health and Veterinary Services
Although the needs are great, the field is so broad that there are almost unlimited opportunities for healthcare professionals and health-related organizations and firms to offer continuing guidance to high schools and community colleges about their future workforce requirements. The state of North Dakota has addressed the rural health needs with an innovative list that focuses attention on “conversation starters” for businesses and communities.
In some communities, particularly small towns across the country, high school students are welcome volunteers, and sometimes find paid opportunities at animals shelters and vet clinics, leading to later careers in that field.
It is worth taking a look at to identify problem areas and to begin to seek solutions if health and wellness are a focus for your firm.
The same sort of list can be applied to most fields. The basic message is that business/educational partnerships pay long-term benefits. An effective, more productive workforce, must be cultivated.
Are you ready to get involved to assure that you’ll have the best possible employees?