AP NEWS

We can all work together to “grow our own” workforce, provide opportunities for students

October 6, 2018

Gwen Soderberg-Chase

Preparing our youth for a purposeful and successful future has always been the goal of educators and parents. Our local economy requires that employers can find well-prepared employees to carry out job responsibilities, and vibrant communities are dependent on citizens who are critical thinkers, problem-solvers, innovators and team players.

Energy is building in many corners of Douglas County to ensure that educators, parents, community leaders and local employers are working together to create clear pathways to the future for all youth, with a particular emphasis on growing our own future workforce and citizenry.

October is National Manufacturing Month. What does that mean for Douglas County? It means we have the opportunity to highlight the great opportunities that exist to point students toward gainful careers, boost our local workforce and strengthen the county’s manufacturing industry.

The growing need for skilled trade workers locally and around the country has become more apparent over the past few years, as the economy has recovered and older workers retire. This has led to a shift in the way we think about which paths can lead students to success after graduation.

Traditionally, students have been guided toward college, specifically a four-year degree. Even students who don’t have a particular career in mind have been encouraged to pursue increasingly expensive higher education, resulting — in some cases — in heavy student-loan debts and degrees that don’t translate into high-wage employment. Many jobs in the manufacturing sector require the traditional college degree, but many don’t.

Although college is a worthy and necessary aspiration for many students, it may not be the right path for everyone. It is time to intentionally expand the menu and make clear that other options for career pathways are just as worthy. In an effort to guide students to high-wage, high-demand job opportunities, many school districts have been expanding their career and technical education programs, including manufacturing. Those efforts were supported by Measure 98, the High School Graduation and College and Career Readiness Act of 2016, which provided state funding to boost CTE programs and college-level education opportunities and to address dropout prevention.

Oregon Education Department data, in fact, shows that students who participate in CTE classes graduate at higher rates than their classmates, and those who focus on CTE in high school achieve even higher rates. Hands-on learning is an essential ingredient to student engagement, keeping our kids in school.

What a perfect scenario for our students, our school districts and our local economy!

We all need to work together to make the most of this opportunity. What does that look like? Parents can encourage their children to explore personal interests, which may include CTE courses at their schools. Teachers can help students realize that those CTE programs can translate into great careers. Industry leaders can provide opportunities for students to experience work sites, whether through site visits, job shadows or internships.

Douglas County Partners for Student Success is here to support these efforts through a variety of initiatives. One way we’re encouraging everyone to work together is to participate in Oregon Connections (www.stemoregon.org/connections). The online program connects educators to industry professionals who can share their skills and bring real-world learning opportunities to classrooms. These connections can be made through in-person matches or virtual, real-time sessions.

In October, be looking for more news and information on manufacturing careers, particularly in Douglas County. In the coming months we will be highlighting other career areas that emphasize our need to work together to “Grow Our Own.”

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