What if high school offered a fast path to a great first job?
After reviewing Ryan Craig’s new book outlining “the faster + cheaper revolution that will upend the traditional college route, we searched for examples of high school programs that put young people on the first rung of an attractive economic ladder. We found a growing number of high schools and career centers offer a direct path to high wage, high demand jobs with real growth potential powered by on the job and formal postsecondary education programs.
For generations, young people in Europe have had access to quality apprenticeship programs. In the last decade Switzerland became recognized as the gold standard for vocational education and job training by focusing on high wage, high demand jobs and by building in transferability into other occupations and into further and higher education.
While the Europeans were improving vocational training, American educators and philanthropists (including me) pushed college for all. We did a good job of getting more low-income students through high school and into college but not through college–and millions left with piles of debt and no credential.
As sectors have been augmented and automated, millions of high skill, high wage jobs have been added. And some have strong advancement opportunities–equal or better than many college degrees.
Following are high school programs that prepare young people for high wage, high demand, high growth jobs; students graduate with skills, work experience and credentials and connections that prepare them for employment.
Tri-Rivers Career Center
The RAMTEC program at Tri-Rivers Career Center in Marion Ohio offers a robotics program that features industry certification on leading equipment (not the generic training available at most community colleges). Honda has been eager to hire high school graduates from the program and pay for continuing education. Graduates can make $60,000 and over $90,000 with additional internal certifications.
Tri-Rivers, like many career centers, has a Construction Trades program where students gain commercial construct experiences and certification. Superintendent Chuck Spellman said they are working on an early apprenticeship training program and early college program.
It’s worth noting the big difference between the upside in these programs. Some like the robotics lead to further learning and process leadership opportunities. Others, like welding, can be more limited to individual contributor roles and more place dependent in terms of income opportunity. As a result, informed local guidance is critically important to make good trade-off decisions.
Other high wage, high demand programs
GPS Education supports southeast Wisconsin learning centers in manufacturing plants where high school juniors and seniors take blended courses and conduct internships. Students also participate in a community college rotation. They graduate with one or two industry certificates, some college credit, at least two work experiences and often a job offer.
Northland CAPS students in Kansas City can participate in an internship at a Magna plant where they make car chassis. After graduation, young people can work as a machine operator and participate in a three-year program in maintenance tooling. Magna pays for tuition and books at the local community college where students earn an industrial maintenance certificate.
About 80 P-tech high schools offer high tech work experience and college credit opportunities culminating in job offers from leading companies including IBM.
Coding bootcamp increasingly serve as an alternative to higher education for careers in IT. More than 20% of Coding Dojo graduates only have a high school diploma or GED when starting the program. These graduates experienced 117% salary growth from their prior job to their new career post-coding school.
There are several healthcare certificates and some are prerequisites to short-term (two years or less) health care programs that lead to high need and medium to high pay.
Given how rapidly the job market is changing and how quickly alternative training pathways are emerging, high school students are not receiving adequate guidance. The subtle difference between welding and machining opportunities in a region could spell the difference between being feeling trapped in a low wage job and having significant upward mobility.
The lateral and vertical mobility experienced in Switzerland would be complicated to replicate in American. It’s not only a function of program with design with significant academic rigor, it relies on a strong social safety net and subsidized college costs.
Career ready high school programs offer a viable alternative to college for many students but for them to be offered equitably requires thoughtful guidance and a supportive education ecosystem.
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