The following story was originally published on and written by Naheed Huq. Click here to view the original publication on

As the SEMCOG/MAC Future Skills Task Force continues its efforts to identify and address development of key technical and soft skills that will prepare residents for the future workplace, there some recurring themes:

  • Early exposure to career options and connections between academic learning and practical applications
  • Multiple pathways to college and careers to accommodate different learning styles, opportunities, and interests
  • Raising community and parental knowledge and awareness about college and career options
  • “Timeless Skills” such as grit, tenacity, and flexibility

One initiative new to Michigan is Ford Next Generation Learning (FNGL), recognizing the importance of these themes to support student success.

Ford Next Generation Learning

FNGL provides a blueprint for “transforming the secondary school experience,” connecting young people to career pathways that reflect their interests and aptitudes. Programs like this can help build the region’s short-, medium- and long-term talent pipelines by guiding students on informed decision making for post-secondary education and careers.

FNGL’s unique five-stage framework brings together educators, employers, and community leaders to align community priorities and resources. It depends on active participation of the district, students, parents, business, employers, associations, chambers of commerce, and other community organizations.

FNGL is now in 40 communities across the country. Romeo Community Schools is the first FNGL district in Michigan and is beginning its implementation phase this fall. Scott Palmer, Community Coach for Ford NGL (and former CTE Consultant for Macomb ISD) helped Romeo Community Schools through its strategic planning process. He is also beginning to work with TaylorDearborn, and Battle Creek Public Schools to tailor the FNGL framework to their district needs. He says:

“Ford NGL helps students re-engage in their education by emphasizing teamwork, project-based learning, career development, and working with industry professionals which prepares them for post-secondary education and the workforce. It benefits the community by closing the local talent gap, and creating a network of industry professionals that mentor students and help them see how their education connects to career opportunities.”

In addition, Ford NGL network data shows that FNGL schools see improved student achievement, graduation, and attendance rates; declining disciplinary actions; and overall more engagement in their studies.

The Academies of Dearborn @Fordson High School

The Academies of Dearborn @Fordson High School is Dearborn Public Schools’ (DPS) pilot FNGL project for the entire Fordson student population.

The vision for the Academies of Dearborn is Students First: Education with a purpose. The goals are:

  • 100% graduation rate
  • 95% attendance rate
  • 80% of students will graduate with post-secondary credit and/or industry certification
  • 80% of students will have work-based experience or service learning

The concept of “Career Academies” may worry some parents who may see them as an alternative to college – as opposed to a robust pathway to post-secondary education. This is addressed through an inclusive community planning process which sets college and career goals for all students and prepares them for success through an engaging and relevant curriculum.

Jill Chochol, Executive Director of Student Achievement at Dearborn Public Schools, says: “Although the district has very good graduation rates, many kids lacked focus even when heading to college…the Academy helps them develop real skills that they can take with them to college and/or careers.”

The Academy system depends on strong business and community partnerships. Partners include health care companies such as Beaumont Hospital and Henry Ford Health System; manufacturing employers including Ford Motor Company and Carhartt Corporation; and others in finance, IT, and media. In addition, there is strong community and education partner support from Wayne RESA, University of Michigan-Dearborn, Henry Ford College, Dearborn Police and Fire Departments, Southeast Michigan Community Alliance (SEMCA), and the City of DearbornContact Colleen Schumm, Academy Coach at Fordson, for more information about supporting the Academies of Dearborn.

Dearborn Mayor Jack O’Reilly says the city supports the initiative because it is a community-wide effort. He says it helps “parents to see the district collaborating with business to provide students with education and work experiences that are aligned with real-time career opportunities.”

The Academy model engages the community in various ways, including Student Ambassadors for each Academy. Their role is to represent and promote their chosen Academy at various events and to interact with community and business partners. In addition, parents are part of the planning process and learn about the academic, career, and personal development opportunities offered by the Academies.

Students begin the Freshman Academy in 9th grade with a broad curriculum that includes a career fair, a career/self-exploration course, extended learning opportunities such as visits to colleges, universities, and businesses based on interest; creation of a career plan with counselors; and guest speakers. In their Sophomore year, they select a Career Academy based on their career interests and abilities in one of four Academies which represent broad career fields: Health Services; Industry, Technology and Innovation; Business and Hospitality; and Human Services.

FNGL_Talking to parents

Student Ambassadors Ahmad Alyasiry and Lara Ismail speaking with students and parents about the program

Each year, students take electives based on their Academy choice. Students receive a comprehensive education, in addition to opportunities for college credits; Career Technical Education (CTE) programs; industry certifications; work readiness skills; mentoring from industry, post-secondary education, and community partners; problem-based learning opportunities; and national competitions in their area of interest. Students also participate in job shadowing and internships.


The FNGL Framework/Academy model is one of several proven models available to districts to help develop the future talent pool. The ultimate goal is to help students recognize their strengths and aptitudes; identify broad careers of interest; and develop the skills, credentials, and academic foundations to make informed decisions about post-secondary education and career choices. With a declining student population in Southeast Michigan and many open positions in growing industries, aligning education with economic opportunities will help students connect their academic experiences with potential career pathways. This will lead to more student engagement and better preparation for future post-secondary education and career choices.

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