When high school students explore all paths to success, not just four-year degrees, they can find a smooth transition from school to an engaging career. This is key to Grow Our Own, a movement to end the cycle of poverty by providing opportunities for all our kids to be successful.
In southwest Minnesota, less than 1 in 6 job openings require a bachelor’s degree or more, while 18 percent require vocational training or an associate degree, according to the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED). And jobs are plenty. The last three years in southwest Minnesota have seen employers posting record job vacancies. In 2016, employers reported an average of nearly 6,500 job vacancies in the second and fourth quarters.
Success in the new economy means a major shift in how high school students and their families prepare for the next step in their education, said Hutchinson’s economic development director, Miles Seppelt: “It’s long been college, major, career. It should be career, major, college. It should be ‘What do I want to be in life? What are the skills I need?’”
The Hutchinson EDA is a key player in the TigerPath Academies initiative at Hutchinson Public Schools. Started in 2014, TigerPath aims to help students discover how their aptitudes and interests can become their life’s work, then giving them the training to pursue that career. Students choose a TigerPath Academy in ninth grade, and it guides them through “minds on, hands on” learning, said Hutchinson Schools Superintendent Daron VanderHeiden. The four TigerPath Academies are SCI HI (primarily health care), Business, Human services and STREAM (science, technology, manufacturing, etc.)
“We want to have kids apply their skills and experience to what they’ll do in a career,” Daron said.
Local businesses have supported the program with donations, materials, mentorships and internships. SWIF is one of 23 partners that financed the $1.2 million TigerPath Initiative, which includes an update to the career and technical education space at Hutchinson High School, now called the “Center for Technical Excellence.” Among other improvements, the new facilities have state-of-the-art machining and welding equipment. It’s at the center of a three-floor classroom wing, with the entire first floor dedicated as hands on “maker space.” Keeping up with industry will help students market themselves to area employers, many of which are advertising jobs that require skills training, not a four-year degree.
“Every manufacturer in town could hire people today if we had people with the right skills,” Miles said. “It’s not just degrees, it’s skills we need.”
Next up for TigerPath is developing a manufacturing business in the school, with students running every aspect of the business and shipping to outside customers. By 2019, the goal is to have all seniors graduate with internship experience.
“We want to get away from a one size fits all education,” Miles said. “Find your own path. Find the right fit.”
Check out Grow Our Own to discover why TigerPath and other career pathway programs are critical to closing the opportunity gap for kids in southwest Minnesota.