By: Janice Urbanik
Well it’s spring- time for the snow and ice to finally give way to warm breezes, buds on trees, bulbs poking their heads through the mulch and then there is…BASKETBALL! Schools and workplaces will be overrun with bracket picks, slow motion replays of dunks, and David and Goliath stories of small schools beating top-seeded teams to blow everyone’s brackets. March Madness is such a phenomena that Warren Buffet and Quicken Loans are offering a $1 billion prize to anyone with the perfect bracket (I’m betting that Nate Silver is excluded from the offer.) So how is this relevant to what I typically write about in this blog? Well – it’s aspirational I guess – to get us to think about what could happen if we could get as passionate about helping students select a good career and adults find a good job as we do when cheering for “our” teams to win.
The $1B Bet for Career Readiness
Yes, sports are one important way to develop teamwork skills, resilience, determination, and discipline. That is one reason why when Title IX was enacted in the 1970’s to address gender discrimination in educational and employment opportunities for females, it was expanded to include athletic opportunities at publicly funded educational institutions. Those are the same skills that employers require and are having a hard time finding in the job seeker candidate pool.
Title IX has been transformative in increasing the access that women have to educational, athletic, and employment opportunities, but far too many young women are still not seeking (or persisting in) the education they need to work in STEM careers or in careers that are predicted to be growing and paying well in our region. The Jobs Outlook 2020 study released in 2012 identified 12 of the largest growing occupation groups in our region. Of the occupations identified in that study who pay above the median wage of $33,130, women make up at least 50% of the workforce in only 1/3 of those occupations. Conversely, women comprise at least 50% of the workforce in 67% of the occupations who pay below that median wage.  Some reasons for these career selections are that young women just are not aware or are actively discouraged from seeking other good paying careers that tend to be male-dominated, such as IT or manufacturing.
With this as background, I was thrilled to hear that Governor Kasich is encouraging the expansion of career technical training down into the 7th grade. Waiting until high school for these classes is just too late, especially for girls. Girls need to experience all of the options for future careers so they can make better informed decisions. They need to get their hands and clothes dirty in shop class so they too feel the pride of making something with their own hands. By working with your hands you learn different ways to work with your mind.
I am also thrilled to hear from Governor Beshear about the Kentucky Skills Initiative, which is creating a dual education system within Kentucky similar to what exists in Germany. With this program, students can begin along the path towards an industrial engineering registered apprenticeship program and an associate’s degree in industrial maintenance starting in the 10th grade. Another option for high school students is to enroll in an engineering pathway that will lead to an Advanced Manufacturing Technician program and associate’s degree at a Kentucky community college.
In the midst of this good news, it is disheartening to read editorials and hear comments that there are concerns about “tracking” students too early onto a career. Who hasn’t asked a child “what do you want to be when you grow up?” Then when they say they want to be a doctor, you said, “Well then you better study hard in science class”. While adults view these as benign conversations with a child, they are really much more than that. It is alerting them to what will be needed to be a doctor or a lawyer or a firefighter. The move to extend career tech education into 7th grade, and apprenticeships into high school is all about providing this same type of calibration for the students, while also giving them real-world exposure and hands-on experience in these fields.
Schools in our region are working hard to help their students learn about careers and make informed decisions. One exemplary example is the Kenton County Academies of Innovation and Technology. They have 6 academies focused on preparing students for careers in biomedical, engineering, manufacturing, IT, media arts, and sustainable energy. From day one, the expectations for participation in the programs are made very clear. One example is that the students are referred to as “scholars” to set the expectation that they are there to learn and to behave in a scholarly manner. Another example is that all of the students in the biomedical sciences academy are given embroidered lab coats with their names and that they are expected to wear with pride and with the seriousness of a medical career. As a supporter of these academies, I received my lab coat recently and I have it hung with pride in my cubicle. It is now one of my most prized possessions and it has garnered a lot of questions and interest at the United Way.
So, in closing, let us go back to the top of this… what will it take to build a March Madness type of passion and community will about getting more of our local scholars into lab coats and welding helmets and computer labs and steel toed boots so they can experience ALL of these options? Wouldn’t it be great if there were a $1 billion prize for the school system that got the bracket for their students right?
 Data from BLS data in ESMI Analysis