by Dave Gardner
Like ships sailing on different compass headings, the participants within the American system striving to produce a skilled workforce are suffering from a disconnect.
Employers across the landscape of commerce are complaining about this mismatch between the nation’s educational system and the direction its students are moving in. The vast majority of quality jobs now available around the nation require a two-year technical education or specialty accreditation, while the number of youth either pursuing expensive four-year degrees, or educationally adrift, continues to be the high.
Efforts are being made within NEPA, however, to correct this workforce disconnect, and to educate prospective students about the variety of career possibilities that may match their interests with opportunity. An example is the Wayne-Pike Workforce Alliance, where counselors such as Helene Mancuso, a certified workforce development professional and certified career coach, strive to guide, educate and develop awareness.
Mancuso pointed out that Harrisburg does have a requirement for the state’s schools to actively offer career counseling. This is officially known as Act 339, and directs the school districts to begin the counseling from year one.
Yet students are frequently being prepared for jobs without genuine opportunity as they miss superior opportunities within various growth sectors that will continue well into the future. Mancuso also warned that efforts must be made to address the sustainability of the current collegiate system where four-year degree costs have exploded.
As part of its overall effort, the Wayne-Pike Alliance is operating a career academy that administers a student assessment program and job shadowing and strives to develop critical “soft” employment skills. In addition, Mancuso said her team preaches the reality that industry certification, in many situations, can be more important than extensive educational credentials.
“Job applicants also must have cultural competence, which must be learned,” said Mancuso.
Within the private sector, a new Luzerne County-based startup called Dream2Career is working to collect, and then deliver, information about new and prosperous careers to a wide variety of prospective students. With the stated goal of “Creating synergies between workforce and education,” the firm is proceeding with the reality that students should not waste their time and money on educational programs with a poor future earning potential.
The new company, according to its promotional materials, allows users to access relevant information about high demand and emerging career paths, discover the career of their dreams while accruing the least amount of debt, and producing talented workers that align with future workforce needs. Specific offerings include a free-to-use social media directory called D2C that contains business-led career information about training programs, scholarships, job shadowing, science fairs, skills competitions, webinars and student events.
In addition, the company delivers Pathways to Success Student Expos where vendors prepare engaging activities that help students learn about the skills and training leading to jobs of the future. An educator network also facilitates workforce collaboratives within school districts, thereby forming a network that can be called upon to develop and share a work-learn policy.
Kathleen Houlihan, Ph.D., CEO and founder of Dream2Career, explained the company’s initial business plan is striving for the education community to be involved and create the revenue stream that pays for the directory with appropriate links. The directory concentrates on demand and emerging working opportunities, while focusing on the reality that kids should not pay exorbitant dollars to learn their life’s purpose with a failed initial enrollment at a college.
“We do not want kids to pick a college course of study based on superficial interests,” said Dr. Houlihan. “When opportunities in emerging fields are first identified it can lead to the creation of a very satisfied workforce. We also are finding that many people working successfully within a two-year tech career once tried a business career.”
Included with the D2C business plan are efforts to expose alternate career pathways, such as the booming technical trades. Educational programs in this arena present hands-on learning, and entry-level jobs for qualified applicants are plentiful.
“So many kids are dealing with a disconnect about awareness with genuine opportunities, but if this is broken down they can be more engaged,” said Dr. Houlihan. “When you don’t have a firm direction, depression and hopelessness can set in, so a career possibility must inspire a sense of purpose. Only then can a better alignment between jobs and applicants be achieved.”
According to Dr. Houlihan, a time of reckoning is arriving for America’s four-year colleges. Total student debt within the United States is now $1.5 trillion, and has grown from a total of $600 billion a decade ago.
“This total is more than all of the nation’s auto loans and more than all the credit card debt, and is unsustainable,” said Dr. Houlihan. “We therefore must present every resource available to connect prospective students with educational opportunities that will generate self-awareness, fulfill passions and create prosperity well into the future.”
A client of D2C on the same “frequency” as Dr. Houlihan is Satya Behara, director of admissions with PrepMD.
Created in 2009, this educational facility focuses on instruction for cardiac rhythm management and electrophysiology training that can graduate account managers or device specialist roles, through a rigorous 24-week process.
The graduates assist physicians with implanting and managing pacemakers, implantable defibrillators, electrophysiology catheters and other life-saving cardiac devices. This is a tech-based career path most people are not aware of, and offers opportunities many colleges seem to be disconnected from.
“Education must focus on awareness with a broader number of career opportunities,” said Behara. “Medical doctors, physical therapists and occupational therapists are the career paths most of our colleges focus on, but many other opportunities now exist. In our case, there must be a trained specialist in the operating room with a physician when they initially install a new device, and it is our mission to graduate these specialists.”