It is time for U.S. Representative Elizabeth Esty to take the next step. First of all, kudos to Connecticut’s fifth district Democrat for recognizing the need to fill manufacturing jobs. One year ago, she put together a board to produce ways to engage students in STEM fields. On Wednesday, the board met at Kaynor Technical High School in Waterbury. Made up of scientists, manufacturers and educators, the board discussed a survey it had compiled. The result? Connecticut education comes up woefully short when it comes to matching students with the thousands of job vacancies, particularly in the manufacturing sector.
One comment particularly struck a chord with me. Talking about the ever-growing medical industry, Rachel Felberbaum, senior director of business development at Protein Sciences Corp., said students ought to be taught how medicines, such as flu vaccines, are made. “I really didn’t learn about the industry until after college,” she is quoted as saying in the Republican American newspaper.
How often do we hear, “I wasn’t taught that in high school?”
On my business radio program recently, I interviewed two students from the Hartford Job Corps Academy. The academy, an example that not all Great Society programs introduced by President Lyndon B. Johnson failed, takes at-risk young adults and prepares them for productive careers, especially in the medical and manufacturing fields. The program is rigorous and disciplined. In plain English, there is no screwing around. The two students I interviewed have turned their lives around, and are about to embark on careers in the medical and manufacturing fields.
The question becomes, why does it take a job corps academy? Why isn’t this taught in high schools?
A common complaint heard from employers is that high school graduates can’t read or do math and that is why many of them are not hired. That and the survey done by Rep. Esty’s informal board should ring a bell. It’s time to hit the reset button. Sadly, that will be easier said than done.
The education bureaucracy is firmly entrenched, with many of their campaign dollars going to underwrite the party to which Rep. Esty belongs. Preparing the next generation for the new economy requires a dramatic change in the education curriculum, including the elimination of course requirements that no longer captivate the imagination of bored students, many of whom choose to drop out of high school.
Going to school should be exciting and challenging, with a conducive learning environment. Because there are only so many tax dollars to go around, it may mean making choices, including the elimination of some subjects that most students find boring but are placed in the curriculum to satisfy certain core constituencies, many of which donate big campaign bucks.
Rep. Esty’s challenge and others truly concerned about our future, is to shake up the status quo. That means utilizing the “Edustations” invented by STEMPilot owner Jay LeBoff (another guest on my program) ,and incorporating a curriculum that meets today’s job requirements. It also means instituting these programs at the expense of other course mandates.
If Rep. Esty is truly serious about preparing qualified students for the 21st Century workforce, she will take the next step. That means shaking up the education establishment.