Education Wednesday: Preparing Students for Technical Careers


To help more students reach lucrative and stable jobs upon graduation, many new educational models are emerging to provide young people with early vocational training. However, beyond familiar positions such as plumbers and electricians, early career-focused programs can give students a head-start towards advanced technical careers. As America‘s economy becomes more rooted in specialized industries, the time has come to familiarize ourselves with the alternative pathways that bypass traditional four year college degrees and lead straight to the careers of the future.

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Students at a summer career program gains hands-on healthcare training. Courtesy: Region2000.org

Business Insider recently posted a list of 40 jobs that do not require a bachelor’s degree. Careers such as web developer, aerospace engineer, and registered nurse all boasted $60k salaries, yet required at most an associate’s degree. Disheartening however, is the notion that in 2013 millions of jobs similar to these went unfilled do to a lack of candidates with adequate training. Sparking an interest early and creating prestige around postsecondary education options such as 2-year technical colleges could easily change this trend.

Middle and high schools can focus on key areas to help students prepare for future careers. In addition to academic knowledge, increasingly employers are discussing the necessary traits such as punctuality, accountability, and resilience that applicants are lacking, yet need to get the job. These qualities, which are often referred to as employability or “soft” skills, may seem like common sense. However, such skills are often left underdeveloped as schools focus more heavily on meeting academic benchmarks. On top of these traits, students must develop heightened problem-solving skills and participate in specialized training in areas such as healthcare science or information technology (IT) to prepare for careers

For students who desire to work in a specialized field, particularly one with a STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math)-focus, these new options cater to a variety of interests and learning strengths.

3 Ways to Prepare Students for Specialized Technical Careers

  1. Specialized Charter Schools: Career-oriented charter schools help students hone professional skills and many even grade on the employability skills mentioned above. These career academies offer an intensive learning environment as they divide students’ time between traditional classroom settings and training in specific career courses such as business, law, or engineering. As local public schools may not offer such specialized courses, these charter schools are great alternatives for students to prepare for their desired career. Other charter school models to consider include Early College Academies which often allow students to finish high school with an Associate’s degree–one step closer to an advanced technical career.
  2. Youth Apprenticeships: I recently spoke with Dr. Bob Lerman, creator of the American Institute for Innovative Apprenticeships and a leading consultant for a new Obama Administration initiative. As we spoke about the benefits of youth apprenticeships, Dr. Lerman noted that these work-based training programs allow students to study alongside senior professionals in an industry setting. He also highlighted that students gain a tremendous amount of confidence while working in real world settings and mastering career-specific skills. As apprenticeships have long been commonplace in countries such as Germany and England, Dr. Lerman hopes to see the popularity of these programs continue to grow in America.
  3. Internships and Fellowships: For students already in college, internships can provide great perks such as access to thought leadersexecutives, and potential employers for hands-on training. Unlike apprenticeships, internships are offered in virtually every professional field. Much as I mention in Education Wednesday: How to Secure Internships, students who participate in well-structured internship programs are twice as likely to be recruited for full-time employment as students who do not. Likewise, for recent graduates, fellowship programs can serve as a bridge between college studies and work in a desired professional field. Often fellowships offer more mentorship and opportunities to hone professional skills than the average entry-level position.
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An apprenticeship with BMW helps students add manufacturing to their resumes. Courtesy: Douglasstafford.com

Pairing hands-on training with academic knowledge, many technical training models have had great success placing graduates in careers. Programs such as Praxis and YearUp are two career training programs that provide real world work connections as an alternative to college attendance,\. They are quickly becoming popular options and even attracting top applicants out of high school.

As parents, teachers and mentors, we must do more to expose students to new career possibilities in addition to linking them with the training they need to succeed. Helping students become career ready sooner with vocational training is vital to sustaining prosperity for more young people and our country. Likewise, emphasizing alternative postsecondary options beyond traditional college attendance can quickly help us meet future needs.  

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An education policy wonk at the Georgia Center of Opportunity, Aundrea Gregg holds a Master’s degree in Social Policy and Planning from the London School Of Economics and a Bachelor’s in Classical Civilizations and Political Science from Howard University. She also is a nail painting enthusiast and writer living in Atlanta, GA. Connect with Aundrea on Twitter or Google+.

Edited by: Viviana Hurtado, Ph.D.

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