A recent survey conducted by Colorado Succeeds, a nonprofit organization that brings business leaders across the state together, found that 77 percent of employers say it has been difficult to hire people with the right skills for open positions — applied, workplace and STEM skills top that list.
Jefferson County Public Schools is trying to resolve that challenge by transforming learning to better prepare students for future careers.
“The main thing is the learning experience,” Superintendent Jason Glass said. “But we’re working to change that experience. We can’t do that alone… We have to build a powerful system of learning experiences both inside and outside the community.”
One step toward making that goal was the Classroom to Careers Summit held Aug. 3 at Lakewood High School, which connected education and industry leaders.
Jeffco schools partnered with the Jefferson County Economic Development Corp., Red Rocks Community College, Arvada Chamber of Commerce, Colorado Building and Construction Trades Council and Jefferson County Business and Workforce Center to bring together Jefferson County industry leaders, workforce centers, chambers of commerce and educators with a goal of expanding work-based learning opportunities throughout the county.
“I think that Jefferson County schools is really incredible,” said Kami Wech, president of the Arvada Chamber of Commerce. “Their team is really leading the charge in a lot of these conversations statewide around what better education and business partnerships can look like. I think it’s an incredible opportunity for the business community to start developing those meaningful relationships with education partners in their backyard.”
The 2017 Colorado Talent Pipeline Report says “work-based learning (WBL) initiatives have the power to enhance a student or job seeker’s knowledge, skills and abilities needed to be successful in the workforce. Such programs have been shown to have high return on investment for employers, participants and society.”
“When we think about the Jeffco Generations vision, our real goal is to change the task for kids,” said Marna Messer, director of choice programming for Jeffco schools. “It’s how we engage kids in a way that’s authentic, relevant…”
Jeffco Generations is the vision document for Jeffco schools, which focuses on the generational skills of content mastery; civic and global engagement; self direction and personal responsibility; communication; critical and creative thinking; collaboration and leading by influence; and agility and adaptability.
Matt Flores, chief academic officer for Jeffco schools, proffered the Pythagorean Theorem as an example. The equation a2+b2=c2 is used to determine the lengths of the sides of a triangle. Flores explained that while the practice of this is important, for students it’s more about what they do with the information that changes things — such as determining the distance a baseball catcher must throw from home to second base.
“The information is no longer the most important,” Flores said. “What you do with the information is more important than the information alone….Times have changed and how we teach has changed, too.”
Investing in education is key
Messer’s hope for the summit, which is planned to be an annual event, is the formation of partnerships.
“I’m hoping those partnerships come about and we can increase the opportunity for kids to get out of the classroom, to see that connection, to bring industry in so that we really are building skills together,” Messer said.
When Scott Laband, president of Colorado Succeeds, thinks about the future of education, he thinks about his daughter who is entering first grade.
“If all goes to plan, she is going to graduate high school in the year 2030,” he said. “Experts predict that in that same year more than 80 percent of the jobs that will exist haven’t been invented yet. So, here’s a very salient problem that we’re trying to understand. How do we prepare kids today for jobs that don’t exist yet to work with tools that haven’t been invented yet and to solve problems that haven’t been identified?”
Jeffco schools already has 300 programs that focus on connecting academic and career programming. Last year, 641 Jeffco students earned industry certifications. But in a district with 86,000 students, Jeffco is looking for more connections and experiences for its students.
“It is so important that each and every one of us invest in education,” said Kristi Pollard, president and CEO of the Jefferson County Economic Development Corp. “I think it’s really easy from the business community to feel like we’re operating in our silos…But what is happening in the K-12 world is so intimately connected to what is happening in the business world.”