Early Exposure to Technical Careers is Key to Future of the Workforce

Last updated on October 26th, 2020 at 12:15 pm

In years past, career and technical education was often viewed as an alternative pathway to college; the courses were often taken by students who eschewed traditional classroom settings and weren’t exactly perceived as “college material.” And they didn’t necessarily have to. Many students were able to walk out of school and right into a factory job.

But today much has changed. As manufacturing and other technical careers have increasingly required higher education, the lack of skilled talent has created a workforce gap — and the shallow candidate pool is impeding businesses from being able to grow or stay competitive.

Still for many teens, pursuing a technical career is far from their radar. Roughly 94 percent of students are not interested in the skilled trades due to a lack of exposure or training, according to a survey by RIDGID.

GPS Education Partners (GPSEd) is one organization challenging that trajectory. While the Waukesha-based nonprofit organization is perhaps best known for its innovative manufacturing youth apprenticeship program, it has expanded its offerings to include more work-based learning intermediary services to address the talent shortage well before students ever leave high school. GPSEd is unique in that it serves as both an education and industry subject matter expert focused on removing common barriers employers and schools face when trying to go it alone.

Outside of the skills gap, GPSEd points to the lack of awareness, experience, opportunity, and people entering the workforce that leaves employers struggling to find talent. The organization says businesses must shift their focus away from “hiring” talent to “investing” in developing talent they need. This shift requires employers to work hand-in-hand with students to create career awareness and advancement, rather than waiting for four-year graduates to complete their education, says Jeff Ziegler, GPSEd director of partnership development.

“When businesses engage in work-based learning, career readiness and post-secondary education can become attainable goals for all students,” Ziegler adds. “They walk away with a more affordable option than traditional universities and viable life-sustaining careers.”

As a work-based intermediary, GPSEd works with schools to align and implement educational programming with the needs of high-demand employers. The programming re-introduces the concept of augmenting traditional educational models with work-based learning activities, where students gain opportunities to learn, develop and demonstrate crucial career-readiness skills.

For students, it’s also an opportunity to discover their passions and interests, and explore hands-on careers through real-world interactions, Ziegler says.

“Besides directly impacting employer success, there is a powerful need to provide students access to meaningful work experiences,” he adds. “Students build confidence when relevant education exposes them to the realities of employment and access to mentors, role models, and new learning environments.”

Ziegler says that many employers, especially mid-sized companies with fewer resources, often want to incorporate youth into their workforce development plans, but often don’t know where to begin. A partnership with an intermediary like GPSEd is key to the implementation, scaling and quality management of work-based learning opportunities, he says.

Not only is GPSEd backed by 20 years of experience in helping businesses address workforce needs, but the organization also supports the adoption of work-based learning programming in the employer’s daily operations. Through providing consistent systems and tools, employers are free to leverage the programming throughout multiple locations — or regions — consistently, with minimal customization to align with local schools.

By facilitating employer-school partnerships, GPSEd is able to deliver custom talent solutions that provide training, industry and educational certifications, apprenticeships, and career services to create better pathways to students while delivering measurable outcomes of success for employers. In fact, nearly 75 percent of students who participate in GPSEd youth apprenticeship programs go on to work in technical careers.

“It is vital that we begin this work together now to address workforce challenges, create access, and provide equal opportunity for all students to find, experience, and define their pathway to success,” Ziegler says.

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Laura Derpinghaus is an enthusiastic marketing strategist with 25 years of proven experience working with manufacturers on both B2B and B2C marketing strategies. In her new role as Director of Marketing and Communications for GPS Education Partners, she is putting her communication skills to work by engaging manufacturers into new conversations about how work-based learning can do more than fill their talent pipeline.

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