Students Need Experience in the Workplace

It seems obvious to me that the best place to learn about a job is, you know, at that job. I was never hired to a new job and then sent somewhere else to learn about what I would be doing. I jumped in and did the work at the office, getting required training there to help me learn key pieces of the role.

Same goes for Illinois high school students who want to learn more about the high-pay, high-skill jobs of the future. One of the best ways we as a state can prepare them for those jobs is to expose them to high-quality workplace experiences.

Our state is headed in the right direction in many regards to workplace experiences for high school students. But during my time in the Stand Illinois Policy Fellowship, I learned that some of our neighboring states are running laps around Illinois when it comes to prepping students for the jobs of the future.

When the Policy Fellows spoke to experts in the field, we learned that Indiana approaches career and technical education (CTE) is a nimble, market-driven way: it funds CTE programs based on wage and labor market demands. It also allocates funding for CTE classes in high-wage, high-demand industries at a rate of more than three-times the funding for CTE courses in low-wage, low-demand industries.

Our state can also do a better job at helping students “concentrate” on CTE pathways by taking two or more CTE courses in a sequence. Only 5% of Illinois high school students are CTE concentrators, but 18% of students in Michigan and 37% of Iowa students are. We can do better for our students when it comes to exposing them to the careers of tomorrow.

The “Stop Illinois Brain Drain” report proposes a number of policy and practice recommendations to make a quick impact on our state. When it comes to practical workplace experiences, the Policy Fellows landed on two important recommendations:

  • Expand CTE opportunities and align them with industry needs. Districts and local industries should work collaboratively to expand CTE opportunities for students, while also ensuring that those offerings are aligned with the local job market.
  • Introduce students to CTE opportunities while they are in middle school. By doing this, we will give Illinois students more opportunities (and time) to think about career pathways that spark their love of learning. College students often switch majors. High school students may want to try different career pathways. This exposure to CTE while still in middle school gives them a jump start to thinking about what career pathways excite them. Not only that, but business groups, higher education, and local and state government should partner to form industry advisory boards that commit to provide even more career and workplace opportunities to middle school and high school students.

CTE and workplace experiences is a complex issue, but I encourage you to learn more by reading the entire “Stop Illinois Brain Drain” report. These issues cover the second set of recommendations in the report. Remember to keep your eyes peeled for more report summaries like this from other Stand Policy Fellows to help get a better grasp of the report’s recommendations.

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