Does "college-ready" necessarily lead to "career-ready?"
Being better prepared academically certainly improves a student's chances for success in postsecondary education. Yet "college-ready" doesn't necessarily translate into college completion, or the means to pay for college or employment commensurate with the degree earned.
We have heard the numbers: 51 percent of college graduates from 2014 and 2015 are working in jobs that don't require a degree, and 39 percent are making less than $25,000 a year. The U.S. youth unemployment rate (for 16- to 24-year-olds) is more than 10 percent. By 2020, two out of three jobs will require some postsecondary education, but not necessarily a bachelor's degree.
The time is overdue to consider postsecondary educational options that can provide access to secure, middle- to high-paying careers.
In 2012, Georgetown University's Center on Education and the Workforce published a report called "Five Ways that Pay along the Way to the B.A." It details postsecondary, sub-baccalaureate career and technical education pathways to well-paying careers: employer-based training, industry-based certifications, apprenticeships, postsecondary certificates, and associate's degrees.
Calling these pathways the "gateway to the middle class," the Georgetown report says these options not only connect education directly with "middle" jobs ($35,000 to $95,000 per year), they offer the encouragement and means for young people to pursue higher levels of education later without incurring disastrous debt.
In previous columns, I highlighted Technology Center of DuPage's dual credit opportunities (earning both high school and college credit simultaneously) that encourage obtaining an associate degree, and some employer-based training programs offered by TCD precision manufacturing alumni.
I want to focus this month on an underutilized but resurging pathway: apprenticeships and related work-study internships. Once limited to the building trades, apprenticeships today also may be found in fields as varied as health care, IT, hospitality, and transportation, serving to grow a highly skilled and well-compensated workforce.
The Department of Labor's Apprenticeship USA initiative asserts that "87 percent of apprentices are employed after completing their programs, with an average starting wage above $50,000 (or $24 an hour)." That's about the average starting wage of college graduates who find work in their field of study -- and without the burden of debt.
TCD alumna Anica Hosticka was a student from West Chicago Community High School District 94 enrolled in our Professional Cooking, Baking and Service elective her junior and senior year. She was on the state champion ProStart Culinary Team and garnered thousands of dollars in scholarships.
In her senior year, she was accepted into the three-year South Bend American Culinary Federation Chefs and Cooks Apprenticeship Program sponsored by the University of Notre Dame. This paid apprenticeship includes a wide range of full-time, hands-on experiences under the supervision of a working chef at Notre Dame and part-time related culinary education at Ivy Tech Community College.
Hosticka's scholarships, including one through her apprenticeship, have financed her tuition, books and fees. In addition to earning an associate degree in culinary arts, she will be eligible to sit for the American Culinary Federation's sous chef certification exam, receive a journeyman card, and expect a median salary of $44,000 in the Chicago area. She is also making important connections with experienced professionals in the industry.
"I did not know just how challenging but amazing the road would be to get my degree," Hosticka recently wrote. "Being an apprentice is giving me the learning experience of a lifetime."
Another TCD alumna, Amanda Murphy (Lake Park High School and TCD Automotive Technology Class of 2011) became the first female student in the Diesel Powered Equipment Technology program at Illinois Central College. The associate degree program features two, 8-week paid internships during the second year, which Murphy completed through the Caterpillar company.
Upon graduation, she was hired immediately by Caterpillar as an experimental technician in the engine research and development division. She appreciates how the work-based focus of the TCD and ICC programs prepared her for the workplace.
"(Career and technical education) can teach a student important skills that go beyond physical skills," she said. "Problem-solving, analytics, mathematics and communication skills are just a few. If your child is interested in a nontraditional path, support them."
Caterpillar's entry-level diesel technicians are at the top end of the technician pay scale (more than $50,000 annually) and job opportunities are expected to grow 12 percent nationally, 15 percent in Illinois, through 2024.
"You have to be willing to work hard, but it is very possible to earn a decent living in this industry," Amanda said, "with good health care benefits and retirement investment options."
Sub-baccalaureate pathways can be a springboard to additional education later. Murphy plans to pursue a bachelor's degree in business administration, hoping to move into management in the future.
Georgetown's "Five Ways" report concluded this about apprenticeships: "As the country struggles to deal with high youth unemployment and simultaneous lack of qualified workers in many fields, apprenticeships represent a pathway worth investing in."
I encourage parents and educators to learn more about these opportunities for high school students at tcdupage.org, or by coming to TCD's Open House from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. Jan. 18 on campus, 301 N. Swift Road, Addison.
• Mike Zimmerman is director of the DuPage Area Occupational Education System, the governing body for Technology Center of DuPage and other career and technical education delivery sites in the region. TCD is the advanced CTE elective campus serving 14 high school districts in DuPage County and Lyons Township. Call (630) 691-7572.