Voc-Ed Makes a Comeback

April 16, 2015 Leave a comment

I received the article below (Forbes, 4/16/15, Neil Howe) as a forwarded post from GetREAL California, a group highly invested in growing Career Technical Education in California.

Those of us in the Santa Clarita Valley are fortunate to have a strong Career Tech Collaborative that has been hard at work building our CTE (Career Technical Education) offerings for students of the William S. Hart District and College of the Canyons. I hope you’ll take a moment to review to better understand how critical CTE training programs are to business.

Voc-Ed Makes a Comeback

Neil Howe, Contributor

San Jacinto College, south of Houston, had no choice but to schedule a 10 p.m.-to-2 a.m. welding class. That’s how many students were trying to sign up. According to The New York Times, this uptick in technical enrollment has been caused by a surging demand for young people with specialized technical skills. Once the black sheep of education, voc-ed is gaining favor under a new name: career and technical education (CTE).

This comeback is taking place at community colleges and high schools alike. Businesses themselves also have gotten in on the action, teaming up with school systems to search for a new generation of workers. The building and fixing professions once dominated by G.I.s are getting a second wind as Millennials enter the workforce—giving an extra push to this voc-ed revival.

Over the past decade, voc-ed has undergone an extreme makeover. In the 1980s and early ‘90s, this path was considered the “plan B” alternative for underachievers. In the late ‘90s and early ‘00s, when G.I.s and Silent retired in droves, voc-ed was reframed as a way to address the sudden shortage of skilled workers and rebranded as “career and technical education” in 2006 to remove its long-held stigma. From 2002 to 2012, the number of students earning sub-baccalaureate credentials in CTE fields rose 71%, compared to a 54% increase in all undergraduate awards.

This CTE revival is also happening in high schools today, though you wouldn’t know it by looking at official statistics. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the CTE percentage of total credits earned by public high school graduates steadily declined from 18% in 1990 to 13% in 2009. But today’s high schools are embracing CTE in the form of career academies, which aren’t included in these numbers. The number of U.S. career academies has more than doubled (from 2,500 to over 6,000) since 2008. These academies cater to career-bound and college-bound students alike—giving students both technical skills and academic know-how.

With CTE curricula that focus on student engagement, career academies produce phenomenal results. While the national high school graduation rate hovers at 80%, academies under the wing of the National Academy Foundation boasted a 97% graduation rate last year, with 93% of graduates planning to earn at least a technical degree.

In part, this sea change towards CTE is in response to increased skepticism toward the “everyone should go to college” model. Today, only 30% of young Americans actually end up earning a four-year degree. And low-income students, who would benefit the most from a degree, often have the worst outcomes: Fully 99% of college attendees from the top quintile graduate by age 24, while only 21% from the bottom quintile can say the same.

This shift is also buoyed along by economic forces, including the current and projected demand for middle-skilled jobs. According to Brookings researchers Harry Holzer and Robert Lerman, there will be new openings for 1.0 million computer specialists, 1.5 million health care workers, and 4.6 million skilled construction workers over the next decade. And the salaries that accompany these careers are remarkable, in some cases reaching six figures for entry-level positions.

A growing number of companies are partnering with high schools and community colleges to streamline the workforce pipeline. Along the Gulf Coast, energy companies like Fluor have contributed money, advice, and surplus equipment to nearby community colleges that train high-skilled workers. In Nashville, Tennessee, Country Music Television took over “The Academies of Nashville” program, which partners with over 170 local businesses. And Ford’s Next Generation Learning (NGL) initiative established career academies in 20 communities across the United States. These investments are a smart move because, in the words of Ford NGL’s Executive Director Cheryl Carrier, “[through this system] students, teachers, and businesses all win.”

There is a long generational drama behind this voc-ed revival. For the G.I. Generation returning from WWII, voc-ed was a modern and democratic innovation that prepared students for an expanding industrial economy. While many went off to college on the G.I. Bill, they also attended vocational schools to pursue careers in the trades. For Silent and first-wave Boomers, voc-ed continued to be a stepping stone to stable blue-collar jobs.

But for late-wave Boomers and Xers, who entered the job market in the deindustrializing late 1970s and ‘80s, voc-ed became a path to nowhere. The jobs that remained were filled by G.I. and Silent workers. Voc-ed also lost its luster once Boomer “yuppies” began championing schools that would prepare kids for an ideas-producing economy—not so much a goods-producing economy.

Times are now changing. Xer parents see CTE as an opportunity to keep their kids on track by teaching them practical life skills that produce measurable results. If public schools can put their kids on the path to a successful career, with or without the increasingly expensive bachelor’s degree, they’re on board.
The CTE curriculum also resonates with Millennials who crave structure and security. They’ve been taught to plan ahead to the extreme: A 2014 Nickelodeon poll found that 45% of 8- to 11-year-olds worry about finding a job “a great deal/a lot.” These risk-averse achievers view CTE as a safety net that fills the gap between high school and the working world—and that offers a long-term plan for achievement that is guided, monitored, and continuous.

Looking ahead, CTE will become an attractive option as students look for more efficient paths to successful careers. If the idea that “not everyone needs a four-year degree” continues gaining traction, doors may open for even more CTE options, such as for-profit schools. Affordable courses specializing in high-demand skills (like coding) have already launched dedicated students into the middle class. CTE (in its many forms) will continue to appeal to a “maker” generation like Millennials—just as it did for young G.I.s—in search of the American Dream.

For complete article, including embedded hyperlinks:


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Career and Technical Education Should Be the Rule, Not the Exception Gallop by Tim Hodges March 10, 2015

March 16, 2015 1 comment

It’s hard to argue with the success of Career and Technical Education (CTE) programs, which teach transferable workplace skills and academic content in a hands-on context. U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan recently characterized CTE programs as providing “instruction that is hands-on and engaging, as well as rigorous and relevant.” He went on to say that CTE programs “are helping to connect students with the high-demand science, technology, engineering and math fields — where so many good jobs are waiting.” Furthermore, in recognizing CTE month on the House floor, Rep. James Langevin recently stated, “CTE is an investment in the future of our economy, our workforce and our country.”

Despite these benefits of CTE, only about one in four students (28.6%) earned five or more CTE credits, according to the most recent data from the National Center for Education Statistics. Most students have some interaction with CTE during their high school experience, but few are immersing themselves in CTE programs.

One reason why more students are not pursuing CTE programs is that critics characterize it as a track for students who are less likely to attend college. This line of thinking is detrimental to students, employers and the future of our country. Students should no longer need to decide between college readiness and career preparation — it’s possible and increasingly necessary to achieve both.

A recent Gallup-Lumina Poll found that when hiring, U.S. business leaders say candidates’ knowledge and applied skills in a specific field are more important factors than where the candidate went to school or what their major was. To be successful in the workplace, college-bound students still need specific knowledge and skills, which they can get from CTE programs.

Additionally, the Gallup-Purdue Index finds that college graduates who had an internship or job in college where they were able to apply what they were learning in the classroom, who were actively involved in extracurricular activities and organizations, and who worked on projects that took a semester or more to complete, doubled their odds of being engaged at work. Yet, just 6% of college graduates say they had all three of these experiences. These are exactly the types of experiences that CTE programs offer to students.

Critics may argue that enrolling in a CTE program may divert college-bound students’ attention away from college preparation classes. However, a recent study found that 80% of students taking a college preparatory academic curriculum with rigorous CTE met the standard for college and career readiness, compared with 63% of students taking the same academic core without rigorous CTE. Further, while national graduation rates have inched up in recent years, students with a concentration in CTE are nearly 15 percentage points more likely to graduate high school than the national average. These data suggest that whether students take one CTE course or enroll in an entire CTE program, CTE should be a part of every student’s education.

As a student, I was actively involved in a variety of CTE programs. While the experience I gained through livestock judging may not seem like it directly prepared me for my role at Gallup, I often rely upon skills such as:

* working long hours toward a goal

* building relationships with instructors both in and out of the classroom

* keeping accurate records and managing budgets

* fundraising to cover the cost of materials, registration fees and travel

* representing the school or even the state at contests

* the joy of winning and the agony of defeat

* being part of a team

* serving as a mentor and being mentored by others

Regardless of the actual content being taught, these experiences build the transferable skills that lead to success in college and career, while painting a realistic picture of the future students will face in the working world. CTE should not just play a prominent role for a few students; it should be the new normal in education.

Tim Hodges, Ph.D., is Director of Research for Gallup’s Education Practice.

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The Real Reason New College Grads Can’t Get Hired

August 5, 2014 1 comment

I came across this article a few months back and was struck by how critical basic soft skills are to those about to enter the world of work. VIA’s Connecting to Success Program helps get high school students on the right track with those skills, but it is ever more important our students leave school equipped with the “right stuff” to get the jobs they seek!

The Real Reason New College Grads Can’t Get Hired
By Martha C. White Nov. 10, 20130

It’s because college kids today can’t do math, one line of reasoning goes. Or they don’t know science. Or they’re clueless about technology, aside from their myriad social-media profiles. These are all good theories, but the problem with the unemployability of these young adults goes way beyond a lack of STEM skills. As it turns out, they can’t even show up on time in a button-down shirt and organize a team project.

The technical term for navigating a workplace effectively might be soft skills, but employers are facing some hard facts: the entry-level candidates who are on tap to join the ranks of full-time work are clueless about the fundamentals of office life.

A survey by the Workforce Solutions Group at St. Louis Community College finds that more than 60% of employers say applicants lack “communication and interpersonal skills” — a jump of about 10 percentage points in just two years. A wide margin of managers also say today’s applicants can’t think critically and creatively, solve problems or write well.

Another employer survey, this one by staffing company Adecco, turns up similar results. The company says in a statement, “44% of respondents cited soft skills, such as communication, critical thinking, creativity and collaboration, as the area with the biggest gap.” Only half as many say a lack of technical skills is the pain point.

As much as academics go on about the lack of math and science skills, bosses are more concerned with organizational and interpersonal proficiency. The National Association of Colleges and Employers surveyed more than 200 employers about their top 10 priorities in new hires. Overwhelmingly, they want candidates who are team players, problem solvers and can plan, organize and prioritize their work. Technical and computer-related know-how placed much further down the list.

Jobs are going unfilled as a result, which hurts companies and employees. The annual global Talent Shortage Survey from ManpowerGroup finds that nearly 1 in 5 employers worldwide can’t fill positions because they can’t find people with soft skills. Specifically, companies say candidates are lacking in motivation, interpersonal skills, appearance, punctuality and flexibility.

(MORE: Black Swan Event: The Beginning of the End of Unpaid Internships)

One thing that does appear to make a difference is internships, according to a Harris Interactive survey of more than 2,000 college students and 1,000 hiring managers on behalf of textbook company Chegg: more than 80% of employers want new grads they hire to have completed a formal internship, but only 8% of students say interning in a field related to their major is something they spend a lot of time doing. Instead, the top extracurricular activities are hanging out with friends, working in an unrelated job and eating out.

And all internships are not created equal. Overall, only about half of college grads say they’re prepared for the workplace — and the number of bosses who think they’re prepared is lower than 40%.

Among students who don’t intern, only 44% consider themselves ready for the job market. That improves for students with unpaid internships; 58% say they’re prepared for the workplace. But among students who complete paid internships, that number jumps to 70%.

Part of the problem is that you don’t know what you don’t know, as the saying goes. Harris Interactive found a huge gap between students’ perceptions of their abilities and managers’ perceptions of those same skills.

None of the students think they’re entirely prepared for the workforce, but they’re a lot more confident than the managers surveyed.

There’s a 22-percentage-point difference between the two groups’ assessment of the students’ financial skills, which Inside Higher Ed calls “alarming,” in an article about the research. Managers also take a much dimmer view of students’ abilities to communicate with authority figures, prioritize and organize their work, manage projects, work in teams and with diverse groups.

It’s just harder to teach these skills, experts say. “It is hard to correct a lifetime of bad habits in a short period of time,” Roderick Nunn, vice chancellor for economic development and workforce solutions at St. Louis Community College, tells the St. Louis Beacon.

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Self Awareness

October 21, 2013 1 comment

Self-Awareness Can Be One of the Secrets to Success

 In talking to a business acquaintance the other day I was reminded of his strong opinions.  He is one of those people who puts up verbal roadblocks to any idea or suggestion that is not in alignment with his opinion of ‘how things should be’.  He is thereby missing new information or innovative ideas to consider because his mind is closed.

Have you ever been accused of only hearing what you want to hear or seeing what you want to see?

 Try this exercise. Ask a friend to look around and make note of everything that is green. Next, have him close his eyes. Once his eyes are closed, ask him to tell you what around him is red.

 Almost everyone you ask will not be able to tell you what was red because they were focusing on what was green. Our perceptions work the same way.

 If we have expectations or biases, we tend to see what we want to see.  Likewise, if people try to tell us something we do not want to hear, we simply do not hear them.

 With the increasing rate of change in the business environment, this is not a good time to be close-minded.  In the past, many businesses succeeded by maintaining the status quo, but in today’s marketplace, it is necessary to expand this narrow focus.

 One way to do that is to be aware of our own prejudices and expectations.

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September 12, 2013 4 comments


In browsing the teamwork section of a website for professional and personal growth I found the above book by Mac Anderson that captured my attention. In it he focuses on some important steps you can take to improve your business.

Mr. Anderson says: “my goal with this little book is to share some of my “lessons learned” in a brief, but engaging way. Because so many times, it’s not what is said, but how it is said, that turns the switch from off to on. For me, one of the most exciting things about business and life is that one great idea can change our life forever.”

This first excerpt I’ve included relates to employee relations:

“There is one question that every employee will love to have you ask … What can I do to help? So many times as leaders, we assume we’re doing all we can do, however, these 6 words:

“What can I do to help?” will usually prove your assumptions are dead wrong.

The question should address three areas:

1. What can I do to help you serve the customer better?
2. What can I do to make your working environment better?
3. What can I do to help you better balance your work and family life?

Obviously, it’s important to let them know up front that you may not be able to help with everything they ask, but you’ll do what you can. In other words, a chauffer to and from work is probably out of the question.

You’ll usually be amazed to hear about a few small things that will cost you next to nothing. You may find they need a new file cabinet, their chair is uncomfortable, they need flex-hours 1 day a week, a new headset for the phone, or a small space heater in the winter months.

The truth is, the fact that you’ve taken the time to listen to their personal concerns is far more important in their eyes than what you’ll “do” for them.

Gallop polled over I million employees who thought they had a great boss and asked them one question. Why? You got it! The number one reason was the boss was willing to listen to what they had to say.

Never forget:

It’s the little things not the big ones that will earn the respect of your people.”

The second excerpt isn’t quite as easy to implement as it is about recognizing your strengths/weaknesses and surrounding yourself with the right people in the right positions to keep the company moving in the direction you are reaching for.

He says:

“One of the biggest reasons many leaders fail is their unwillingness to accept their limitations. Ego gets in the way. They feel they’re smart enough to do it all, and mistakenly feel that what they don’t know they can learn “on the fly.” So many times it’s a recipe for disaster, especially for entrepreneurs.

Walt Disney failed many times early in his career. He had brilliant ideas, but his ability to execute them was painfully lacking.

He also, believe it or not, was a lousy artist. So after the third failure,
Disney was finally convinced that to succeed he must surround himself with great artists who could bring his animation ideas to life. He also needed his brother, Roy, to handle the financial side of the business. These two moves made all the difference and freed Walt up to do what he did best, which was using his imagination to plan their future.

I can definitely relate to the Disney story. From 1991-93 we were on a roll at “Successories”. We had gone from $5 million to $45 million in three years. Then came 1994, and Murphy’s Law hit us like a ton of bricks. We had grown too fast and no longer had the right people or infrastructure to handle it. Early in 1995, I realized that I had to make significant changes. After a lot of soul searching, I realized my strengths were people skills and creativity; however, my weaknesses were operations and accounting. To grow the business and rebuild the infrastructure, I had to hire good people who had been there and done that, people who could complement what I did best. This was a very painful wake-up call, but I learned some of the most valuable lessons of my life.”

We can all take a lesson or two from Mr. Anderson and learn to ask the question of “What can I do to help?” and also realize that we can’t “do it all”, should acknowledge our strengths, and understand our weaknesses to build the team that will drive our business success.

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5 Stories Every Entrepreneur Should Be Able To Tell

August 6, 2013 Leave a comment

Nothing has the power to engage people like a great story. From a carefully crafted elevator pitch to the perfect customer testimonial, a great narrative can propel your brand and business like nothing else. Stories that resonate attract incredible teams, devoted customers, investors, and press. Identifying the authentic, compelling stories of your company is something every entrepreneur should take the time to do. Here are five stories you should be able to tell at the drop of a hat:

1. Your origin story.

TaskRabbit was born on a cold Boston evening in 2008. My husband and I were about to leave for dinner when we realized that we were out of food for our giant yellow lab, Kobe. I thought about how great it would be to have the heavy bag of dog food delivered right to my home. Then I thought about how one of my neighbors was probably at the store at that exact moment — and they’d probably be willing to pick up Kobe’s dinner if only they had some way of knowing that I needed it.

From this idea I built TaskRabbit, a platform for delegating tasks and errands to friendly, background checked neighbors. The company has grown tremendously since then — we’re now live in nine U.S. cities with dedicated experiences for deliveries and businesses — and I tell our origin story almost every day. Our customers and the community here in San Francisco came to love Kobe so much that, when he passed away last summer, theChronicle ran a full-page obituary in tribute to him.

2. Your desired future.

What does the world look like when your company scales? Have you thought about this? Is it wonderful? Is it inspiring enough to attract a dynamite team, fantastic advisors, and potential investors? Telling the story of the future you want to help create will get the right people excited about your company.

At TaskRabbit, we’re on a mission to revolutionize the way people work. That future is like rocket fuel to me. I see talented people taking charge of their own schedules and making a great living that’s integrated with their lives. I see people increasing their productivity and happiness by leaning on one another to get things done. I see entrepreneurs getting qualified help as they grow their companies. I see this happening all around the country and all around the world. It’s a future I can already see unfolding — and a story I love to tell.

3. A learning moment.

Failure is awesome. Failure means you tried something, you tested it, and you learned some things. Failure gives you the tools to move forward. Telling people about the times when you fell short and learned something substantial is very effective. It shows that you’re working hard to do better.

At TaskRabbit, we’re very iterative about everything we do, so we pay careful attention to our failures (they’re pretty much our inspiration). Here’s a story of how a recent one helped us build something great: We’ve known for awhile that business customers make up a large percentage of our users, we’ve heard stories from these customers about how TaskRabbits are helping out as office managers, customer service representatives, even on-demand delivery engines. These customers told us how they hacked together solutions on our platform because we didn’t provide the features they needed. We learned that we were failing them. Identifying that failure was an “a-ha” moment for our team.

We reached out to these customers, heard more of their stories, and learned that we could offer them something truly revolutionary to help their businesses thrive. From this learning moment, TaskRabbit for Business emerged. This new platform is tailor-made for our business users, and it’s one of the best products we’ve ever released.

4. A truly meaningful anecdote.

Since TaskRabbits become part of the rhythm of people’s lives, our community is full of meaningful stories. Some are funny — like the one about the guy who had a pallet of 365 boxes of ramen noodles delivered to a coworker to settle a bet. Some are touching — like the one about the romantic who hired a TaskRabbit to take a photograph of him proposing to his girlfriend or the one about the grandmother who used her TaskRabbit earnings to take her grandson to Disneyland. And some are positively life changing — like the one about the mother who hired a TaskRabbit to sit with her son during his chemotherapy sessions, more than 3,000 miles away.

These stories illustrate, in a way slogans or taglines or ad copy never could, the impact we make in the lives of our customers. Meaningful stories like these can be worked into press interviews and keynote speeches, brighten up email marketing and social content, and give every single person on your team an arsenal of pithy, powerful tools to evangelize your brand.

5. Your inner monologue.

From your team to your board to the customers that keep your business alive, everyone who’s made a commitment to your company deserves to know what motivates you. Sharing the story of why you’ve dedicated your life to this thing that you’re doing is a powerful and authentic way to make an impression. My story’s simple: I love TaskRabbit.

I live it, I breathe it. It makes me smile, and cry, and laugh, and yes, sometimes it even makes me scream. I love it. Knowing that TaskRabbit — a company born from an idea I had one night and nurtured by a brilliant team, dedicated board, and incredible customers — is poised to revolutionize work as we know is what motivates me.

I wake up every single morning with a singular goal: To do everything possible to move my company forward in the next 24 hours.

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Generations, What Generations?

July 23, 2013 2 comments

Take a moment to watch this video. Great example!

I recently had the opportunity to attend a presentation on the Multi-Generational issues that face most companies today, and definitely will in the future! It was of the best presentations I have seen on the subject!

I give full credit to the team of Amy Lynch and Kim Lear from Bridgeworks for their excellent presentation. The company has also published two books entitled: When Generations Collide and The M-Factor: How The Millenial Generation Is Rocking The Workplace.

I have attached two summaries from them for your consideration. When you think of the different groups, we all know others, or fellow employees, that embody these characteristics, motivations, and skill sets. Each group has its’ unique strengths whose diversity, talents, and traits, when understood and embraced, can truly bring strength and opportunity to any Company or organization. Understanding these differences can also really make a big difference in success in selling or buying products and services.

For example:

What Traditionalists (born before 1946) really want is some of YOUR time. They want to talk, discuss, and have you explain things for them.

Baby Boomers (born 1946-64) are typically hard workers, very busy and stressed out so they really want you to help them save some of THEIR time.

Gen X-ers (1965-1979) are natural skeptics, and really want you to explain the WHY for them. You need to earn their trust.

Millenials (1980-85) like to work as a team, are very computer and media savvy, and are more socially conscious that the other groups.

What will the GenEdge group bring? The jury is still out, but they have a lot of promise. Sit back and enjoy the ride!

I hope this helps you to better understand the generational issues which affect our personal and business lives. Understand, and embrace, each of their skills and traits and you will benefit from it for generations to come!