With high school dropout rates at about 30 percent nationwide and an anticipated severe workforce shortage as baby boomers retire, now is the time to engage future workers. Educators must encourage high school students to be proactive career planners. Today's high school students will fuel the workforce pipeline with educated, skilled workers who are ready to fill quality, high-paying jobs in industries such as health care, manufacturing, technology and engineering.
The Lee's Summit R-7 School District, located in suburban Kansas City, is a large district of 17,400 students that is committed to raising the priority of career planning for students. Teachers and counselors commit instructional time to career planning so that all students explore occupational interests and learn some of the skills, tools and attitudes they will need to achieve success in their work lives. Enormous rewards can be gained by students who become proactive career planners. Proactive career planning means R-7 students will take classes centered on a career cluster or occupational field, gaining a better perspective of what people who work in those fields actually do. It also means parents might save some much needed college dollars because students arc immersed in a career area in high school as opposed to college. It is this immersion that helps the student decide whether or not to enter a chosen career area. Isn't it better to learn some of these lessons at the high school level as opposed to paying for these lessons at the collegiate level? The cost to parents of an additional year of college can be significant. The College Board estimates that the average annual cost to attend a public college in 2009 was $15,213; therefore, college time spent "exploring" careers carries a hefty price tag.
Establishing the Need for Employability Transcripts
About 10 years ago, the school district reorganized its typical career education advisory committees around the theme of the six career paths: arts and communication; business management and technology; human services; health services; industrial engineering technology; and natural resources and agriculture. The school district partnered with the economic development council and the chamber of commerce to establish membership on the newly created Lee's Summit R-7 Career Pathway Teams.
Team membership consisted of community leaders, school leaders, counselors and teachers from both academic and career and technical education (CTE) areas. The Lee's Summit Economic Development Council provided statistical information on the workforce skill gaps identified through a survey of local businesses. The advisory teams spent time looking at employment in the Kansas City region using MERIC (Missouri Economic Research and Information Center).
Specifically, the teams looked at a Career Guide Index, which equally weights three variables--average wages, total openings over a 10-year period, and percent of change over a 10-year period. A combination of scores for any of the three variables defines an occupation's Career Grade. For example, Grade A careers have the best outlook with above average growth rates, number of openings and average wages compared to all occupations in the region. According to the MERIC Web site, there are more than 34,000 projected Grade A openings in the Kansas City region. It was this kind of data that piqued the interest of the pathway team members.
After much analysis of the statistics, it was shockingly apparent that the Lee's Summit community needed to do more to ensure that graduates were both college and career ready. Over the past 10 years, a series of Lee's Summit R-7 Career Pathway Team meetings led to some innovative initiatives within the school system and in the community. The district has implemented employability transcripts along with focused learning as part of the school district's proactive career planning process. …