NC leaders float more workforce training for high schoolers

NC Superintendent Catherine Truitt also says she wants to revamp the state's school accountability model to include career and college prep.

Posted Updated

Emily Walkenhorst
, WRAL education reporter
RALEIGH, N.C. — Project-based learning, new school accountability metrics, personalized school counseling and working toward a career in high school. Those are things North Carolina Superintendent Catherine Truitt and state Chamber of Commerce President Gary Salamido said Wednesday the Tar Heel State needs more of.

The Chamber hosted a virtual forum, “How K-12 Education Fuels NC’s Competitive Success,” Wednesday with Truitt and Salamido as speakers.

They talked about involving more business and colleges in K-12 curriculum. While they noted examples of students working and getting college credits, they said it's not enough to meet workforce demands or prepare students for their futures.

Most North Carolinians don't earn a degree or certificate by the time they're 24 years old, Truitt said.

That needs to change, she said. The state’s K-12 schools need to think about preparing all students for careers and engage all students in planning for their futures, she said.

"We have a tendency in education to think about education for career planning for perhaps students who are underachieving, and this cannot continue,” Truitt said. “Career planning is for all students. At the same time we should not be telling certain students they cannot go to college."

Truitt and Salamido both previewed initiatives they’re planning to help prepare students for their careers, as well as legislation that could increase opportunities and encourage new teaching approaches.

Their ideas aren’t without challenges.

Salamido noted challenges with company culture surrounding apprenticeships, and Truitt noted a lack of school counselors and other support professionals that can help expose student to career and college opportunities.

New initiatives

The North Carolina Department of Public Instruction will have a career accelerator program this summer, powered by $23 million in federal COVID-19 stimulus money.

The program will be for rising sixth through 12th graders who have been deemed “at risk” in some way or disproportionately impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic compared to most of their peers. It will launch in all school districts and many charter schools; each will host a program that will include some level of workforce and experiential learning.

The North Carolina Chamber of Commerce’s new initiative will be the Institute for Workforce Competitiveness, which will work with employers to fund “sustainable solutions to their talent supply challenges,” according to a news release.

Salmaido notes thousands of information technology jobs are open now, and thousands more are expected but there are not enough people to fill those jobs. But people don’t necessarily need degrees to take those jobs, just certifications.

Those are things high school students can work toward while they’re still in school, and Truitt said the state has a program to help.

Salamido said he wants to see more apprenticeships for younger people, such as high school or college students. Many companies in North Carolina are hesitant to employ young people, but apprenticeships are common in all industries in other some other countries, he said.

A different approach to teaching and guidance

Truitt says she wants to revamp the state's school accountability model.

The model focuses heavily on test scores and student growth, and it doesn't do enough to emphasize how schools are preparing students for the future.

Schools should be assessed for external partnerships with community and business groups and for career and college preparation, Truitt said.

But Truitt said teachers can also help students develop what are often called “soft skills” — like communication problem-solving, which Truitt calls “durable skills” that last a lifetime. They can do project-based learning or “real-world” learning.

"I think teachers get nervous when they have to stray from what they know they’re going to be evaluated on and that of students and doing things that are maybe not teaching to the test,” Truitt said, "and that goes back to accountability.”

Legislative changes she plans to push before the next long session could help teachers have the flexibility to focus on more than preparing students for core course exams.

School counselors should also be encouraged to take a different approach to advising, Truitt said. Rather than pushing students struggling academically toward trades and student succeeding academically toward colleges, Truitt said, advising needs to guide students toward success related to their interests.

But the state also faces a shortage in school counselors, Truitt said. And counselors are just one part of engaging students, who right now are mostly not earning certificates or degrees toward jobs.

“We know the wraparound services we supply to schools are in short supply,” Truitt said. “Not necessarily from a funding standpoint but from a human capital standpoint. We don’t have enough social workers. We have trouble recruiting to some of our more rural areas.”


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