Welding. Autoshop. Home Economics. Attempts to teach high school students technical skills are nothing new, but for a time--at least around the time when I and other millennials were in high school, it seemed as if the focus had shifted from valuing both traditional and technical education to emphasizing a single pathway: 1) Graduate high school 2) Go to college 3) Graduate college with a fulfilling and well-paying career.
Yet, as college tuition continues to soar and employment opportunities for those with bachelor's’ degrees have stagnated, another job sector is opening up--even to the point of experiencing labor shortages: technical careers and middle-skilled STEM jobs in fields such as Information & Technology, Healthcare, and Advanced/Precision Manufacturing.
Pima County Joint Technical and Educational District (JTED) is helping to close these gaps. JTED offers over 60 career and technical education programs, from cosmetology to fire service to medical assisting, in 16 school districts in and around Pima County. The programs, which adhere to industry standards, offer students more than the chance to dabble in a trade; most offer their students the ability to test for and earn genuine industry certifications as well as dual credit with Pima Community College. The programs are low-cost or tuition free, with financial assistance available to qualifying families. For example, JTED’s fully accredited cosmetology program is $600 a year for either a two-year or accelerated one-year program. This is significantly less than most beauty schools in Arizona which can cost between $5,000-$15,000.
Pima JTED has worked with AmeriCorps for four years. State members have provided direct assistance to JTED’s students through mentorship, tutoring, reaching out to guest speakers in industries around Tucson, and holding employability skills workshops. VISTA members have worked to build and expand community partnerships, internship programs, and networking opportunities for JTED students.
Over the course of my VISTA Year, I will be working with a group of community stakeholders, including students, Career and Tech Ed directors from school districts, and community partners to create comprehensive online “Career Maps.” These career maps are essentially online, interactive resource guides that explain as clearly as possible how to enter into a career field. There will be one for each JTED program detailing (via a series of interactive infographics) career statistics, networking tips, tools for building professional (“soft”) skills, scholarship information, and step-by-step guides to choosing and following a pathway within a career field.
Additionally, I am working with JTED staff to create graphic and web design internship positions for our JTED students specifically for this career mapping project. The students will greatly enhance the maps by providing both their skills and their perspective on students’ needs. We hope that by directly involving JTED students, we can create a system that is as relevant and helpful as possible to them and their fellow students.