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#AskExcelinEd: Why is the business community so important to improving student pathways?

• Quentin Suffren

Over the past year, I have had the pleasure and opportunity to engage on the issue of career and technical education (CTE) with a range of business groups, including regional and local chamber officials. At every occasion, I was impressed by participants’ desire and commitment to partner with their local schools and postsecondary institutions to help develop pathways that lead to in-demand, middle and higher wage occupations. Their passion for this work is a clear reminder that business and industry are vital to the whathow and why of robust student pathways.

The What

Policymakers and educators at the K-12 and postsecondary levels need business and industry voices to help inform which pathways and occupations are in-demand now—and which ones will be in-demand 5-10 years from now. While this may seem obvious, the result of knowing “the what” often means change. This could mean transforming pathways where students cut hair, prepare food or learn basic first aid into opportunities for learners to program machines, manage teams and businesses or practice more advanced medical procedures.

In addition to informing those pathways, business and industry can provide the much-needed external cover and pressure to make these hard changes in schools, districts and postsecondary programs. On the employer side, the business community needs to ensure that the signals to education systems are clear and unequivocal when it comes to desired competencies and credentials.

Not All Student Pathways are Created Equally

Image Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

The How

While schools and two-year colleges have long managed the coursework and training students pursue in career pathways, educators are typically the last to learn about updates in industry practices, technology and required competencies. Strong business and industry partnerships can provide regular reviews and updates to curricula and pedagogy, access to the latest equipment and processes as well as experiences in work-based learning.

Talk to any principal or dean, and they will tell you about their challenges to identify, hire and retain industry professionals as CTE teachers. A critical piece of business and industry’s role is to help retrain or upskill existing teachers—to ensure they know HOW to best prepare students for career success and advancement over time.

The Why

While the what and how are largely intuitive, the business community can and should play a primary role in communicating why it is so important to develop high-quality CTE pathways. And the answer is not just “jobs.” The most forward-looking business leaders want a well-trained workforce—one that can do more than just fill open positions. These leaders are looking for a workforce that possesses the knowledge and skills to adapt and grow within and across occupations over time.

CTE is not a jobs program; it is a sequence of rigorous education and training that can help provide a lifetime of economic mobility for families and build long-term prosperity for states, regions and cities.

High-quality CTE includes postsecondary study and attainment, rigorous coursework and relevant occupational experiences. Put simply, it is an integral investment in talent, the future and possibility. One of the business community’s key responsibilities is to continually remind and cajole education systems of this fact. CTE must aim higher than low-skill, low-paying and dead-end pathways.

As many business leaders have shared with me, developing and sustaining cross-sector partnerships that include education systems and the business community is hard work. Yet high-quality CTE programs require them—particularly if schools and postsecondary institutions are going to get the whathow and why of student pathways right.

About the author

Quentin Suffren

As Innovation Policy Managing Director, Quentin oversees Personalized Learning, College and Career Pathways and Course Access policies at ExcelinEd. Previously, Quentin served as executive director of the college, career, and military preparation at the Texas Education Agency. He also held leadership positions with Amplify Education, an education consulting and technology firm, TNTP, and The Learning Institute. Quentin began his career as a high school English teacher. He earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees at the University of Memphis.