News and Tribune

February 6, 2014

VARYING SKILL SET: Regional Works Council explores preparing students for careers

By JEROD CLAPP
jerod.clapp@newsandtribune.com

NEW ALBANY — Technical certifications are great, but punctuality and a good attitude are in some cases, better.

Regional business leaders met with education officials to tell them what skills are lacking in work forces at a forum of the Region 10 Works Council — one of many set up across the state by Gov. Mike Pence to help develop strategies for strengthening job skills — at the Prosser Career Education Center on Thursday.

They said more employees need “soft skills,” and maybe a way to measure them.

Louis Jensen, director of high schools for the New Albany-Floyd County Consolidated School Corp., said even though timeliness and other skills like it aren’t on ISTEP+, public schools are still trying to find a way to fit them into their curriculum.

“We’re addressing that, it’s just hard to quantify it,” Jensen said. “It’s interesting to hear the different perspectives of the different community members who are here today. You have to look at that to see what you can do to comprehensively meet all of their needs. You don’t want to be a magnet program, and that’s not what we are.”

But Paul Perkins, Region 10 Works Council chairman, said the answer to measuring those skills might already have existed. He said the state tested the Work Ethic Certification program for high schoolers. They could list the certification on a resume to show employers how they measure up against other employees in basic work-related skills.

Business leaders at the forum said they’d support reviving the program and would recognize the certification.

“It would be important to me,” Diane Fischer, owner and president of L & D Mail Masters, said. “That would be a new carrot that’s not out there now. You can see the skill level based on a transcript, but if you saw that work ethic certification, I think that would be something new to bring in.”

 

PATH TO TECHNICAL EDUCATION

The councils are also designed to look at technical education programs and maximize them to prepare workers for careers.

A chart of schools in the six-county region — comprised of Scott, Clark, Floyd, Harrison, Washington and Crawford counties — shows most high schools in Clark and Floyd counties have robust feeder programs to Prosser.

The programs within the high schools are designed to put students on career pathways defined by the state, but Perkins said there’s still some work to be done at high schools and Prosser.

He said especially at rural high schools — including New Washington High School, which only has one course for those pathways — often have fewer offerings.

But Clarksville and Rock Creek high schools are the only schools in the region without any classes designed for those pathways.

At least at Clarksville, Perkins said he thinks the New Tech High School has potential to feed in to Prosser or those career pathways.

But with more students interested in taking a path outside of college, he said Prosser could use an expansion in facilities and offerings.

“I think there’s more students that would come here if they had the space for it,” Perkins said. “They have a fantastic machining and welding program, but advanced manufacturing seems like one of those places they’d like to build upon.”

New Albany-Floyd County Schools is working on it. In 2015, they hope to put a building referendum on the ballot to get money for a few big capital projects, including a renovation and expansion of Prosser.

“It’s a difficult sell because no one likes to raise their taxes,” Jensen said. “What we’re anticipating is the referendum will be tax neutral, we won’t be raising taxes. Actually, they might even dip.”

But he said showing the success of the programs at Prosser could help them get the votes they need, as long as they can connect it to the creation of a viable workforce.

But adding programs is another story.“It’s tough because the [career and technical education] center can’t tell the local school that this is what you need to touch, it has to be agreed upon,” Jensen said. “That’s not easy. Then you have licensure issues. Just because you say you think you should offer this career path, you have to have licensed teachers in that building to offer it.”

 

SPEAKING OF TAXED...

Business leaders also raised the issue of the need for more counselors in high schools, specifically for career counseling.

While some of that goes on, consistently falling budgets make it difficult to add more staff and sometimes, even help them get certifications.

“A lot of times when you bring forums together with this, you think outside of the box, you brainstorm knowing sometimes your resources are limited and there are things you can’t do,” Jensen said. “These are very healthy conversations. When the educators hear these, we think about what we can implement based on our resources.”

But getting post-secondary schools involved might help that along.

Andrew Takami, director of Purdue University College of Technology at New Albany, said faculty are encouraged to work with schools to help perform some of those counseling roles for students interested in science, technology, engineering or math.

“When we say partnerships, we actually mean it,” Takami said. “We don’t just mean some high-level, theoretical approach. No, we’re actually talking about integrating as best we can.”

He said as superintendents start thinking ahead on careers for middle and high schoolers, higher education can lend a hand in helping those students along.

“We’re seeing them create pathways that align with our STEM subjects and asking us to be involved,” Takami said. “Our faculty then can go in and be a part of those discussions at those level and help mentor those students along.”