Jobs for the Future carried out asset mapping in 25 Pathways to Prosperity regions, including studies of the labor market using real-time as well as traditional data. The process consistently identified three growth areas of the economy across the network’s 8 states as the best bets for young people seeking appropriate entry-level jobs with a two-year degree. These include: advanced manufacturing, IT, and health care.
Health care is the career area to which high schools have responded most frequently over several decades. The California Academy Support Network alone lists 156 health career-themed high schools in their national directory, and a good number of these schools nationwide are highly successful in keeping young people in school through graduation. There is wide knowledge that demand is growing, though less understanding that nursing is but one option—the allied health fields include a wide range of technicians, including:
- Physical therapy assistants
- Medical laboratory technicians
- Radiological technicians
- Occupational therapy assistants
- Recreation therapy assistants
- Respiratory therapy technicians
The challenge in health care is that postsecondary connections are weak, and because of the recession, many adults who have already completed science courses and have work experience are taking the limited places allocated competitively in postsecondary health careers programs. In addition, there are faculty shortages, but on the plus side—as obtaining a license in a health careers field requires a clinical practicum—hospitals, nursing homes, and rehabilitation centers are used to taking on interns and students, and are often willing to provide work-based learning opportunities for high schoolers. In existing health-related early college schools, high school students earn credits that transfer seamlessly into community college credential programs under agreements between the college and the high school.
IT and Computer Science
Almost all workplaces today are IT enabled, so IT is a “best bet” for almost everyone. IT skills are required in almost every occupation, including growing career pathways in fields such as data security, engineering technology, and health informatics. Computer science opens doors from programming to cutting-edge development of computing solutions in software design. Many high schools, however, teach the useful basics of office technologies (e.g., PowerPoint, typing) but are not equipped to offer either introductory computer science or IT. Only 15 of 50 states accept computer science to meet a math or science graduation requirement (Source: code.org). And both high schools and community college have difficulty finding faculty for these programs. According to the National Science Foundation, only 19 percent of U.S. high school students take a computer science class, a percentage that has fallen over the last two decades. When they exist, high school approaches to IT are often not well aligned with postsecondary offerings, and educators often lack good information on which certifications (e.g., Cisco, A+, Microsoft) are the best bets for students.
On the plus side, The National Science Foundation, National Academies Foundation, the College Board, and STEM early colleges, among others, are creating or have created rigorous courses. Some schools with strong IT programs have in-school enterprises with external clients, and others provide paid internships (Boston’s Tech Apprenticeship is one highly successful model).
With reshoring in process and manufacturing now a high-tech occupation with good wages and advancement opportunities, both high schools and community colleges are challenged to provide appropriate training and the expensive equipment it requires. Advanced manufacturing exists in some high school CTE programs, but the courses are not consistently aligned with postsecondary offerings, which are often in engineering technology, a good career pathway—but it can lack adequate training in production skills. Project Lead the Way provides a number of districts with high-quality engineering basics on which to build and the National Association for Manufacturing's Manufacturing Institute has assembled a list of community and technical colleges using its stackable credentials, and is searching for high schools to add to the list. This field requires both hands-on skills like welding and highly sophisticated computer skills to negotiate the demands of modern computer numerical control (CNC) systems using computer-aided design (CAD) and computer-aided manufacturing (CAM) programs.
Advanced manufacturing is truly a wide open field for young people that is no longer gritty and dangerous, however young people and their families need better information about opportunities, and employers will have to work with educators to build the curriculum, provide equipment, and publicize the advantages of these careers.