Significant changes are occurring in K-12 educational environments. Educators and administrators are beginning to realize that the curriculum presented in primary and secondary schools need to focus on career readiness.
Numerous methods are being tested to bring education into alignment with future workforce needs. One of the best models of workforce emersion is using the pre-apprenticeship model.
Take SKY FAME as an example -- the Southcentral Kentucky Federation for Advanced Manufacturing Education. The program works with area high schools and with the Kentucky Community & Technical College System to provide the business-decided curriculum.
This method makes sense in manufacturing towns. In the current U.S. climate, where unemployment rates are at record lows finding skilled labor can be a significant challenge. Manufacturers are vested in the success of this program because they now have access to skilled talent. Educators want to give students the best opportunity to succeed.
The health care sector is another area where educators need to give students more access to work-learn models. Dr. Kristen Digwood, a friend and co-owner of a physical therapy office, hires several types of healthcare professionals. She sees a difference in the workforce preparedness of physical therapists who are in school for 6.5 to 7 years when compared to individuals who are trained through two-and-a-half-year associate programs, like physical therapy assistants. Dr. Digwood believes that recent graduates of PT programs seem to be spending too much time in the classroom, which leaves the talent pool, in some ways, less prepared to enter the workforce. Conversely, the physical therapy assistants often adapt more quickly to the business aspect of medicine because they have spent less time in the classroom and started working more quickly.
Real-world business perspectives like these point to a need for curricular changes, which should incorporate more opportunities for work-and-learn designs. When students spend too much time learning theory, it limits their ability to apply the information to real-life situations. In most professions, the practice of performing has far greater value.
It is paramount that work-and-learn models include educational apprenticeships and that they become part of the mainstream educational system because they produce the types of graduates that industries need.
Businesses should take the lead when educators are developing the work-and-learn curriculum. When businesses participate in work-and-learn programs, they are able to reduce hiring costs and create a workforce pipeline that will save them money in the long run. Organizing work-and-learn programs for youth is a net positive for the industry and for society because these opportunities for collaboration are what make small towns flourish.