Some business leaders worry that the workforce they need in the 21st century might not be available in high-school graduating classes.
Other business leaders are working to be sure high-school graduates know what they need to know to make it in their industries.
Albuquerque charter schools ACE Leadership High School and Health Leadership High School invite the employers who will hire their graduates to help design school curricula, train and mentor students, then evaluate student progress.
“We don’t assume we know what business professionals need,” said Tori Stephens-Shauger, ACE Leadership principal. “We are experts at teaching and learning. They are experts at their businesses.”
With help from businesses, the schools try to teach “what’s really happening and what industry wants 10 years from now,” she said.
ACE stands for architecture, construction and engineering. The school’s advisers include representatives of Associated General Contractors, Jaynes Corp. and JB Henderson Construction.
Stephens-Shauger said these experts tell educators that it is not enough to teach a student plumbing or carpentry.
“They told us, ‘We want communicators, innovators, collaborators and problem-solvers,'” she said.
Industry professionals know a construction project contains elements of accounting, marketing, politics, economics and public policy. So ACE Leadership, with industry help, designs projects for the students that incorporate thinking and problem-solving on all of those elements.
More skills needed
It isn’t enough any longer for health-care workers to know how to take blood-pressure readings and draw blood, said Michelle Melendez, director of workforce training for First Choice Community Healthcare.
“The only way to increase the health status of our communities is to be involved in and address the social determinants of health,” she said, such as poverty, education, employment, neighborhood conditions, culture and diet.
“I interview young people at least a couple of times a week. We were not getting the caliber of applicants for the entry-level jobs we needed.”
They didn’t understand the role First Choice is trying to play in improving community health, and they were missing what Melendez called “soft skills” – understanding, listening, communication – and even some basics like computer and reading skills.
When the New Mexico Center for School Leadership decided to organize Health Leadership High School, which began this school year, it invited dozens of industry representatives to help define what the school should do.
“They asked, ‘What is the ethos of the sector? What is so integral that the person needs to know and believe to be a contributing partner in the sector?'” Melendez said.
“Right now, people work in isolation,” said Gabriella Duran-Blakey, Health Leadership High School principal. “We need workers who can collaborate in all domains of health care. They need the ability to solve problems.”
The school’s advisers say students need to understand how the places we live, work and play and how city infrastructure and public policies affect health. They need to know how to work with clients of the health-care system. And they need to know how health-care systems work, from how work is organized to how medical bills are paid.
For example, Melendez said, if a doctor tells a patient that to help control diabetes he needs to eat more fruits and vegetables and take a long walk three times a week, is that even possible in the patient’s world?
Health Leadership students survey their own neighborhoods to answer that question. They might find loose dogs threaten pedestrians, crime keeps people locked up in their own homes, and air pollution makes breathing difficult.
They look at neighborhood maps and try to locate stores that sell whole wheat bread and fresh vegetables. They learn that the world where the patient lives might make it hard to exercise and eat properly. Then the students work together to explain their findings and identify solutions.
Students all want to be either a pediatrician or a veterinarian when they start the program, because those are the only health-care providers they have ever seen, Duran-Blakey said.
Health Leadership is showing students there are many ways to work in health care by taking classes to visit pharmacies, phlebotomists, members of Doctors Without Borders, the University of New Mexico Health Sciences Center and zoo veterinarians. Health-care professionals are regular visitors to the school.
“Our projects have to come from what is happening now in the profession,” Stephens-Shauger said. “It can’t be a simulation or a contrived project.”
When the projects are finished, the business advisers evaluate the students at school.
“It’s arrogant for any educator to think that an educator alone or policymakers alone are good enough to decide if the student is good enough to get a high school diploma,” Stephens-Shauger said.
The evidence is that standardized tests that educators and policymakers have relied upon to judge student success haven’t worked, he said. Industry doesn’t hire the graduates because they aren’t prepared.
“The people who do the work know it best,” Stephens-Shauger said.