Career Academy Giant NAF Gets an Upgrade, Expands Access to Work-Based Learning

On a warm July morning in Miami’s Marlin Park, over a thousand people gathered not for a baseball game but to celebrate economic opportunity. Hosted by the Beacon Council, the Miami and Dade County leaders that champion workforce issues, the event served as the organization’s annual report to the community on the progress of the One Community One Goal initiative.

JD Hoye, President of NAF, challenged the 1,000 businesses in attendance to expand access to work-based learning for high school students.

In career academies countywide, Miami-Dade superintendent Alberto Carvalho committed to using the NAF certification program, NAFTrack, which combines verified coursework and work-based learning around an industry theme to boost employability. When students earn this industry-recognized certification, they gain access to the benefits of NAFTrack Certified Hiring – a promise made by over a dozen of the nation’s top companies to give special consideration for job opportunities to NAFTrack Certified graduates. Companies gain access to a skilled talent pipeline ready to fill their employment vacancies. At the Beacon Council’s event, it was announced that Miami will be the first city to launch its local chapter of myNAFTrack, the platform which will connect NAFTrack Certified with potential employers to boost the county’s local economy.

Founded over 35 years ago by then Citi chair Sanford I. Weill, NAF is a national network of 644 career academies serving over 100,000 students and representing five career themes: Finance, Hospitality & Tourism, Information Technology, Engineering, and Health Sciences. (The featured image is Palomares Academy Of Health Sciences in Pomona, California.)

The leading career academy network is shifting from a focus on design principles to certification of career-ready knowledge and skills.

Like this Miami regional initiative, NAF plans to expand partnerships to other geographies with a high concentration of academies including Charlotte, Dallas, Detroit, and Southern California.

NAF Expands Platform Resources

With support from SAP, NAF adopted the Success Factors platform which includes a robust learning management system to serve as their technological solution for myNAFTrack.

Like other platform networks New Tech Network and Summit Learning, NAF members will benefit from college and career ready modules, as well as networking opportunities through the platform’s search feature and groups.

Business partners will be able to build a profile page to showcase internship and career opportunities. Fourteen of the 16 national companies that support NAF and provide hiring preference to NAFTrack graduates already use the Success Factors platform.

Certifying Career Ready Skills

NAFTrack Certification encompasses assessments of three components: career coursework, qualifying internship, and high school graduation.

The internship requirement includes completion of work of value to the employer, 120 hours of time worked, and that interns must be paid no less than sub-minimum training wage. Internship supervisors complete the assessment and are asked to score students on a four-point scale in the following eight categories:

  • Collaboration & Teamwork: Acts and collaborates as a team member; exhibits the ability to work with diverse individuals; interacts with supervisors, clients, and teammates appropriately.
  • Communication: Demonstrates effective verbal communication; constructs effective written communications; listens attentively and observes work environment.
  • Creativity & Innovation: Incorporates creativity and innovation into tasks.
  • Critical Thinking & Problem Solving: Thinks critically, formulates, and solves problems; demonstrates precision and accuracy; utilizes systems thinking.
  • Information Management: Locates, comprehends, and evaluates information; applies information technology when completing tasks.
  • Initiative & Self Direction: Demonstrates flexibility and adaptability when completing tasks; takes initiative, is self-directed and resourceful; asks appropriate questions; demonstrated awareness of own abilities and performance, comprehends career opportunities/requirement in the industry or field overall, understands career opportunities/requirements in the specific occupation area related to the internship or student project
  • Professionalism & Ethics: Demonstrated integrity and ethical behavior; manages time effectively; punctual, takes responsibility for learning; seeks to learn; prioritizes tasks; demonstrates persistence in completing activities; brings tasks and projects to completion; Exhibits responsibility and professional behaviors as defined by the industry or field; understands the culture, etiquette, and practices of the workplace or the project client’s organization and know how to navigate the organization.
  • Quantitative Reasoning: Uses effective quantitative reasoning.

For companies interested in hosting interns but struggle with challenges such as capacity, NAF has designed an innovative solution. NAF Future Ready Labs offer an innovative and comprehensive structure and design that enables corporate partners to offer more internships. This design begins with a project of value to the employer, who collaborates with NAF, the corporate partner, and the school/district/academy on the program design. NAF Future Ready Labs embed additional college and career readiness activities including resume building, technology skill-building, higher education exposure, and other professional skill-building activities. Participants of the NAF Future Ready Lab internship are evaluated regularly, with their internship supervisor completing an assessment at end of the internship, which is eligible for fulfilling the NAFTrack internship requirements. After three successful pilot sites last year, the program was expanded to 10 sites this summer in partnership with leading companies such as Verizon, Oath, SAP, KPMG, Mastercard, Capital One and Optum.

Chief Program Officer Brenda Barry said one of the most interesting benefits of the program will be the ability to measure how many NAF grads get a job. They’d also like to keep alumni on the platform to support each other and future students, furthering the network effect.

Adding platform resources and expanding access to NAFTrack certification are part of the career academy network’s effort to extend impact.

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Tom Vander Ark

Tom Vander Ark is the CEO of Getting Smart. He has written or co-authored more than 50 books and papers including Getting Smart, Smart Cities, Smart Parents, Better Together, The Power of Place and Difference Making. He served as a public school superintendent and the first Executive Director of Education for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

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