BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
FORT MADISON – A nationally recognized education and workforce specialist spoke to about 130 business and education representatives on a different approach to preparing our students for careers.
Dr. Kevin Fleming, author of “Redefining the Goal: The True Path to Career Readiness in the 21st Century, challenged the group to think differently on how we look to prepare our students for a career. A move that he says could help solve some of the skills gap issues facing Lee County.
Fleming outlined a 20-step process geared to get K-12 and higher education officials to think differently about how they program curriculum and how they work with the business sector to strategize workforce development in Lee County.
As part of redefining the goal for students, Fleming said K-12 and higher educational administrators need to look at an idea of educational completeness at any level with gainful employment.
He recited statistics that showed that in 2018 only 32% of jobs will require a high school education, but 67% will require some sort of technical training or certificate.
He also said we need to get away from telling our children and students to follow their passions and allow them to create their passions through their efforts.
“Stop telling them to follow their passions,” Fleming told the group. “Most high school students don’t have a passion. They are still trying to figure it out. On the flip side, some students have many, many passions and just don’t know what they are focused on. Statistically only 1% of high school students have identified their real passion in life.”
Fleming also suggested the education at all levels turn toward skills mastery rather than what he called “seat time” and find a mix of critical educating and vital skills mastery.
He cited some European countries that require an identification of career path by the eighth grade so students can decide if they will go into a vocational career or a career that requires additional education and the paths split. Students can change their minds as they go, but the initial choice has been made and students can then see if their career choice is for them or not.
He also challenged schools and workforce development centers to align their budgets with labor market needs; create human capital plans where groups like industry committees that meet with colleges and then schools and chambers and workforce development centers are aligned.
“You need to have the same groups of people meeting together and at one or two meetings instead of six or seven different gatherings. Then your messages are aligned and your focuses are more inline across the groups,” Fleming said.
A few of the other steps included choosing the right career exploration programs for your population; creating parallel paths to graduation; change from a mean look at prospective career salaries to a range to give students a clearer picture of how pay reflects effort; and working to eliminate underemployment, which is someone who has a degree but is working at a job beneath their qualifications, by creating skills-based education plans.
Fleming also encourage a change in the way businesses advertise for help.
“Add ‘Community College degree or certificate preferred’ to your job postings. One fifth of all residents have nothing additional out of high school. This encourages that mindset to get a community college degree or some kind of workforce certificate,” he said.
The concept of a regional education center that would be geared toward technical and vocational training and adult education came up as part of the informal discussions and Fleming said those types of centers are becoming very productive and viable in today’s labor market. He also said that Southeastern Community College’s new $1.8 million tech center on the college’s south campus in Keokuk could be a facility that could be combined with that effort.
After an informal question and answer session and a working lunch discussion, attendees were asked to come up with a specific 8-10 month goal that would be forwarded to workforce development and education officials.