Youth CareerConnect: Equipping Students for the Future

President Obama stopped by Bladensburg High School in Maryland on Monday to announce the winners of the inaugural Youth CareerConnect program. The school, along with two other high schools in Prince George’s County, is being awarded $7 million as part of the program. Overall, 24 Youth CareerConnect awards across the country will provide $107 million to high schools and their partners as they redesign the teaching and learning experience for students to more fully prepare them for a successful future.

The program, administered by the U.S. Department of Labor in collaboration with the U.S. Department of Education, will help prepare 2,500 graduates at Bladensburg and other schools to succeed academically and graduate career-ready in high-demand fields such as information technology and health care.

“I’m announcing a new challenge to redesign America’s high schools so they better equip graduates for the demands of a high-tech economy,” Obama said during his 2013 State of the Union address. “We’ll reward schools that develop new partnerships with colleges and employers, and create classes that focus on science, technology, engineering, and math – the skills today’s employers are looking for to fill jobs right now and in the future.”

The Youth CareerConnect program encourages America’s school districts, institutions of higher education, the workforce investment system, and their partners to scale up evidence-based high school models that will transform the high school experience for America’s youth. Participating schools will strengthen America’s talent pipeline through:

  • Integrated Academic and Career-Focused Learning
  • Work-Based Learning and Exposure to the World of Work
  • Robust Employer Engagement
  • Individualized Career and Academic Counseling
  • Integration of Post-secondary Education and Training

Secretary of Education Arne Duncan recently met with a school community in Massachusetts that shares the same approach as the Youth CareerConnect program. Worchester Technical High School, which earned the U.S. Education Department’s recognition as a Blue Ribbon School in 2013 thanks to students’ high performance, meaningfully engages students in relevant experiences that provide a link to future college and career pathways. The school went from being one of the worst in the district to one of the best in the nation with a 95 percent graduation rate and a 1.3 percent dropout rate.

During his visit, Duncan participated in a town hall discussion on career and technical education with high school teachers, community college officials and business leaders.  The school’s strong leadership and willingness to embrace the community left an unforgettable impression on Duncan.

“I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a school that is more open, whether it’s higher ed partnerships, whether it’s business partnerships, whether it’s literally inviting the community into your school every single day … this school is an extraordinary community asset,” he told the audience.

Today’s announcement of the Youth Career Connect program recognizes that many local districts and school leaders, as well as many of their national and local workforce partners, have been working together to provide these workplace relevant opportunities for students for quite some time, and it builds off of the collective experiences of these local partnerships. Ultimately, this program complements additional proposals in the President’s 2015 budget, and supports the President’s broader agenda to strengthen education to more effectively prepare young people for college and careers.

Brenda Dann-Messier is the Assistant Secretary for the Office of Vocational and Adult Education.

ED Launches Engagement Process Following Report on U.S. Adults’ Skills

Last month, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) released the findings of the international Survey of Adult Skills, a product of the Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC). The results showed that on the three domains (literacy, numeracy, and problem solving in a technology-rich environment), the U.S. average performance is significantly lower than the international average and the U.S. has large percentages of low performers in each domain.

Statistics Graphic

Clearly, we need to be more strategic and systematic and create learning opportunities for all low-skilled adults, beyond the 2 million per year we can reach through the current adult education program.  To that end, the Department asked OECD to take a closer look at the backgrounds of the U.S. low-skilled population, identify policy implications, and offer a broad set of recommendations that could provide a framework to help this country build on our strengths and systemically address some of our skill weaknesses.

Today OECD released their report, Time for the U.S. to Reskill? What the Survey of Adult Skills Says. This report is the first report in a decade that quantifies the population of low-skilled adults and takes a closer look at who these low-skilled adults are. The findings are alarming and should concern us all.  They shine a spotlight on a part of our population that’s historically been overlooked and underserved—the large number of adults with very low basic skills.  OECD identified in this report that there are about 36 million adults ages 16-65 performing below Level 2.

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Helping Community College Students Get Back on Their Feet

What do an out-of-work mother, a high school dropout, a woman in the middle of a career switch, a professional musician, and an African immigrant have in common? They are all are trying to carve out a successful future by going back to school by attending or aspiring to attend St. Louis Community College (STLCC). After speaking at the National Council for Continuing Education and Training/National Council for Workforce Education’s Joint Annual Conference last Tuesday, I stopped by STLCC to tour the college’s Nursing Simulator Lab and to hold a community roundtable with students, college officials, and local employers.

Dann-Messier and STLCC Students

Brenda Dann-Messier (in green) with STLCC students.

STLCC and consortia partners throughout the state of Missouri recently received a $20 million grant under the  Trade Adjustment Assistance Community College and Career Training program. The program supports partnerships between community colleges and employers to develop programs that provide pathways to good jobs, including building instructional programs that meet specific industry needs.

Officials at STLCC are using the grant to expand partnerships with area hospitals that provide clinical training and future employment for students in the school’s nursing program.

The Nursing Program at STLCC has done an outstanding job of developing effective partnerships between students, educators, and employers.  Their collaboration model is critical to getting people back to work during these tough economic times. While some of the students were in the school’s nursing program, some were still trying to get their GED so they could begin their postsecondary education. For many of the students, getting to where they are today wasn’t easy, but they’ve persevered in the pursuit of their dreams.

One woman, for instance, lost her family mortgage business and was forced to sell her home while another student aspired to one day get her PhD after dropping out of high school several years ago. They had the common goal of completing the education necessary to achieve their newfound path in life. None of them could afford to attend a more expensive state school and were thankful for the many opportunities provided by STLCC.

“I couldn’t have gone back to school if it weren’t for STLCC,” said one student. “They have been instrumental in helping me get back on my feet.”

Brenda Dann-Messier is the Assistant Secretary in the Office of Vocational and Adult Education.