Helping students build skills to fill job vacancies in health care, manufacturing and information technology is the focus of a workforce development program launched Friday in Aurora.
The Aurora Regional Pathways to Prosperity Project aims to help students transition into career and technical education programs after high school by forming collaborations between schools and businesses. It's part of a broader initiative under way in six states using a report by Harvard University's Graduate School of Education.
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The report found about half the nation's students fail to earn any type of credential or degree by their mid-20s, said Bob Schwartz of the Harvard Graduate School of Education, who worked on the 2011 report "Pathways to Prosperity: Meeting the Challenge of Preparing Young Americans for the 21st Century."
"In a labor market that's increasingly rewarding only people that have credentials and degrees," educators should strive to increase the number of people earning such qualifications, Schwartz said.
Working together to develop Aurora Regional Pathways to Prosperity, leaders say schools and companies will create better paths into careers in high demand -- especially those that require a certificate, on-the-job training or an associate degree instead of a four-year bachelor's degree.
"We have to make sure we're dealing with that part of our student body, with that part of our economy so our young people can have opportunities," Aurora Mayor Tom Weisner said.
Friday's meeting involved education and industry leaders from four public school districts in Aurora, Waubonsee Community College, Aurora University and major employers such as Cabot Microelectronics and CompTIA who discussed steps to building partnerships after the program's launch.
Health care, manufacturing and information technology were identified as the fields with the most recent job postings in Aurora-area research conducted by the Harvard Graduate School of Education and a nonprofit organization called Jobs for the Future. But researchers say local leaders must develop their own ways to provide increased training opportunities so students can enter those fields.
"These programs really do need to be built in a collaborative way," Schwartz said.
Amy Loyd of Jobs for the Future, who conducted much of the Aurora-area research funded by a $25,000 grant from the Dunham Fund, said the infrastructure is in place to create stronger workforce development for growing industries.
She noted Waubonsee Community College already offers more than 45 career education programs; College of DuPage has a strong information technology program; West Aurora High School's health care career academy allows students to gain credits toward career certificates while still in high school; and Aurora University offers a two-plus-two program for transfer students from Waubonsee.
"You've got the ingredients for success right here," she said.
Weisner said the Pathways to Prosperity Project is itself a component in a broader initiative to keep Aurora competitive in the global economy, which includes a greater focus on early learning and the development of a science, technology, engineering and math-focused partnership school for third- to eighth-grade students.
"This endeavor is really part of a bigger picture as well," Weisner said.