Stouder has formed a study group of about 12 people, including teachers, principals, assistant principals and members of the district’s Career Tech Education department, to research educational tracks for students who intend to start their careers immediately after high school. Stouder is meeting with the group again today to put together information for high school principals and anticipates expanding the group to a formal committee no later than February.
Superintendent Dr. Michael Hinojosa called the idea one of his three goals for the school year, alongside increasing student achievement and developing a financial plan.
“I was personally very excited when the board chose this as goal three because I’ve been very passionate about this for years and was frustrated that things never moved in this direction,” Stouder told the school board during a work session Wednesday. “We’re not asking children at age 14 to determine what they’re career path is going to be, but it definitely gives them some great options.”
Stouder said 20 percent of today’s jobs require a four-year college degree, 65 percent of jobs require an industry-related credential and/or two-year post-secondary degree and 15 percent of jobs require no specific skills but require employability work ethic skills.
“Four-year college degrees are not necessary for today’s and tomorrow’s high-skills, high-wage, high-demand jobs,” she said.
Stouder is not the only one who believes not every student needs to attend college.
Georgia Commissioner of Labor Mark Butler said last month that the No. 1 issue facing Georgia’s labor market is the shortage of skilled workers, specifically in technology and manufacturing trades.
“We are going to see hundreds of thousands of open jobs going unfilled because there is a massive skills gap,” he said at the Vinings Bank Board of Directors luncheon on Oct. 19. “If this keeps going on, companies and industries will have to import talent in to filling these positions.”
In May, Lockheed Martin Aeronautics of Marietta General Manager Shan Cooper said she was concerned about the lack of skilled workers as well.
“I can find a CEO, but I can’t find a structural mechanic,” she said, adding that it would take a massive change in the K-12 education system, as well as more support from technical colleges, to get students more interested in learning the skills needed to fill the jobs gap.
“Because of political decisions, we have turned the K-12 system into teaching students to satisfy bubble tests rather than teaching them the skills they could need to get a job,” she told the crowd at the Cobb Chamber of Commerce’s First Monday Breakfast last spring.
North Cobb High School is leading the way the way for such programs. Last year, the school implemented a “Ready for Work” program that was started with funds donated by Superior Plumbing and Archer Restoration Services Inc.
“Students would say to (North Cobb principal Dr. Phillip Page), ‘You really don’t have anything for me here to make me want to come. I’m not interested in what you’ve got,’” Stouder said. “They’ve done some wonderful things there.”
In October, Superior Plumbing’s Jay Cunningham said he and Paul Letalien with Archer Restoration started the program at North Cobb because they were having a hard time finding qualified help.
“We decided to go back to the beginning and help start a long-term stream of qualified help (in high schools),” he said. “We’re having to look at six or seven different states right now just to get qualified help.”
Students in the program who graduate at the top of the class are guaranteed a job after graduation. Each businessman has donated $50,000 to help start-up the program by paying for trained teachers.
While the North Cobb program is privately funded, Stouder said they will look at a variety of sources including the state department’s new Vocational Lab Construction-Related Equipment Bond, Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle’s Career Academy Project Grant, charter funds, private industry grants and SPLOST funds when they are implemented district-wide.
Stouder said the passage of state House Bill 186 in May paved the way for alternative career programs.
“It is praiseworthy and an ambitious step forward in school improvement,” Stouder said. “It mandates career pathway programs for high school graduation, infusing career technical, agricultural courses with rigorous academic context and accelerating student learning by providing dual-credit course offerings.”