If filling the talent pipeline begins with public school introductions into possible careers, key players in the process will be guidance counselors who have the earliest contact with tomorrow’s workforce.
“Students need someone to believe in them,” said Dena Robinson-Greene, counselor at the Detroit International Academy. Counselors provide that and are one of the main people telling students, ‘You can do this.’”
Robinson-Greene has been counseling for 12 years and noticed tremendous change in how career guidance is conducted, a departure from the conventional methods she herself had received as a student.
“Back then they just looked at the grades. If you had A’s in English you should become a teacher,” she said. “They didn’t explore other possibilities. The way we expose our students to career opportunities has changed in the last ten years.”
Technology has certainly opened avenues to be explored. Unlike previous generations that occasionally held “career day” with visiting professionals, Robinson-Greene said that a variety of software programs and web sites provide open access to the working world.
“We can connect them to people in industry, and not just on a field trip,” Robinson-Greene said. Through social media and video-conferencing students have examined and explored both further education and potential pathways. “We have the business support but now have to make the connection to students and open their eyes,” Robinson-Greene said. “Especially in the inner city students have a very limited awareness of career choices.”
Today’s counseling offices are more than just a display of brochures but instead a place where students can explore the world beyond high school. One program at the Academy asks a series of questions and provides detailed options to include education and training requirements, potential salaries and job choices in various fields.
“It’s more about matching students with their destiny,” Robinson-Greene said. “We match their passion with a purpose so they can find areas they like and explore them independently.”
Among the most prominent challenges is in part a recognition that the “university for all” approach no longer applies. Careers in the skilled trades which require less than a four-year degree are, for many students, a more practical path after high school.
“Many folks still think that career or technical education is an alternative to college,” said Amy Flynn, Career Counselor at Oakland Schools Technical Campus SW. “They should really see it as a bridge to high skill, high-wage and high-demand careers via purposeful education.”
Flynn said that the “Education with a Purpose” approach to technical training has been in recognition of decreasing graduation rates. Only about 25 percent of students who enroll in a four-year university program will receive a degree. Oakland currently encourages students to build stackable credentials for a more productive transition through post-secondary education.
Whether in high school or technical training, “virtual” programs alone won’t replace the individual counselor being on site. For each additional counselor on staff districts have reported a 10 percent increase in four-year college enrollment among students, according to a recent survey by the College Board Advocacy and Policy Center.
“If that [counselor] isn’t in the system there’s no one to show them how to visualize their future, or contact the financial aid office, or find a tutor,” Robinson-Greene said. “We also show them how to keep making connections once they’re out in the world of work.”
Written By: James A. Mitchell