- The new superintendent of Wisconsin's School District of Janesville, Steve Pophal, is implementing a plan to provide students with the skills they need for well-paying jobs in local business and industries. And while they don't pay as well as some positions that have been lost, Pophal wants to show them the value of these positions, which only require two-year technical degrees or certificates, according to the Hechinger Report.
- While he attempts to turn students and parents into “more sophisticated consumers of education beyond high school,” Pophal is trying to convince local businesses to offer more workplace learning opportunities and to scale up wages to attract more students in a tight labor market.
- As part of a plan to create programs in mechatronics — an emerging field that combined mechanical engineering and electronics — at two district high schools, Pophal is encouraging teachers to earn master's degrees at a local technical college so they can teach specialized courses that would count for college credit. They wouldn't be responsible for paying their tuition, but they would have to buy their own books and fees.
The labor market is changing, and schools need to be poised to adapt to those changes. Though many low-skilled jobs are vanishing because of the availability of new technologies, there are still many jobs available for students if they are prepared for them. According to the most recent job figures released in August, there are more than 7.1 million job openings across the country, compared to a 2016 high of 5.8 million available jobs.
Many of these roles require only a certificate or a two-year degree, placing them financially within reach of a higher percentage of students, even more so with scholarships and grants that are available in most areas. In some cases, these positions pay better than some other professions, making them a better return on investment than a college degree in many cases. However, they do require some STEM knowledge, life skills and communication capabilities, including oral communications.
Preparing schools for the jobs of the future requires some adjustment, but schools cannot let go of teaching the basics to cater to every industry whim. Focusing on teaching strong STEM skills, computer basics, literacy and communication translates into a mere upgrade of the past basics: reading, writing and arithmetic. Teaching life skills and soft skills are necessary for basic survival in today's world and can be easily embedded in other courses. While it is great to have high schools that teach courses like mechatronics, these options are not available in most areas. However, partnerships with local community colleges and businesses can allow schools to help students build these more specific skills in high school without much additional cost to the district.