Preparing Students with Technical Career Pathways
Friday, August 02, 2019
Not long ago, students could work their way through college without having to take on a mountain of debt. Today a four-year college degree leaves the average student with more than $26,000 in loans. And the price of tuition continues to skyrocket while wage gains remain stagnant.
For students seeking a path to a good career that doesn’t include starting out saddled with debt, there are some attractive alternatives. A renewed emphasis nationally on high school career and technical education (CTE) is helping young people secure good-paying jobs while meeting the current and future workforce needs of businesses.
Like much of the country, California is facing a shortage of skilled labor as Baby Boomers retire. But unlike many schools that cut CTE programs when budgets tightened during the Great Recession, Corning Union High School District preserved its tech-focused curriculum.
Jason Armstrong is associate principal of the Corning Union High School District and oversees the CTE program. He says this is an advantage. “A lot of schools are trying to rebuild while we’re trying to enhance and expand our programs. We feel like we’re on a pretty good track,” he says.
The district offers a variety of CTE courses that introduce students to in-demand careers. The curriculum has different career pathways that help students learn the entry level skills needed to obtain jobs right out of high school or continue on to develop further technical skills in community college, technical or trade schools.
The refreshed CTE programming is specifically targeting the workforce needs of Tehama County and the North state with sequences of classes that allow students to advance their skills and practical experience in particular fields. The idea is to help those who are ready to go to work after high school and “give them a leg up in getting a job in the state and in our area,” according to Armstrong.
Previously, students learned about furniture and cabinetry in the school’s wood shop. Recent updates to this programming gave rise to a Building, Construction and Trades pathway focused on teaching relevant technical skills that can be applied to residential and commercial construction such as framing, roofing, basic electric and pouring concrete.
“We’re in the third year of our conversion and we’ve been pretty successful in terms of the things students do,” Armstrong says, noting that students work on building practical projects they can sell, such as elaborate chicken coops.
Armstrong points out that there’s a push to develop the region into more of a manufacturing hub, which requires a skilled workforce. The school district’s Manufacturing and Product Development pathway emerged to meet these needs.
In this pathway, students learn math skills, coding and special design software. They’re taught how to run CNC mills to make their own parts. The school partnered with Sierra Pacific Industries recently to give students some hands-on education that involved replicating some of the company’s parts.
“It was a good opportunity for students to see that they can make this stuff,” says Armstrong.
Because healthcare jobs are one of the fastest growing occupations, the school now offers a patient care pathway in partnership with Shasta College. With some of the additional funding devoted to CTE, the school purchased state-of-the-art teaching equipment for its healthcare learning labs.
The goal is to expose students to a range of areas in healthcare, from dentistry to sports medicine and radiology, so that they can determine what they’re most interested in. In the labs, students learn clinical healthcare practices such as how to draw blood, do a basic suture or take and read x-rays.
Armstrong says this has been a popular career pathway. “Already, a lot of students are going on to become RNAs or nurse practitioners.”
The Agriculture and Natural Resources pathway is also attractive to students and well suited to the area. The school district just received two different grants that will bolster this curriculum. It’s in the process of developing a walnut orchard at Rodgers Ranch to facilitate real-world education about all aspects of agricultural production, processing and sales.
The school is looking ahead to determine which pathways make the most sense to continue or add in the future. Access to economic data helps inform the programming. Student interest is also a factor.
The hope is that this collaborative and planful approach to CTE will benefit students, businesses and the region as a whole. “With this advanced training, students who don’t go on to four-year colleges can stay in the area, be productive citizens and contribute to our local economy,” says Armstrong.