How to solve the skills gap crisis? Try the Chicagoland District 214 Career Pathways Model

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Chicagoland's D214
© 2018 Color Creative

In 2007, Wheeling, Illinois faced a labor shortage and an aging workforce. With purposeful communication with local employers, District 214 recognized that the local talent pool did not have the necessary skills and training needed to fill jobs in the community. District 214 launched the Career Pathways Program in their high schools with partnership from local universities, businesses, and other community leaders.

As college costs have skyrocketed and the value of a high school diploma has gone down, it is more important than ever that students are able to learn hard and soft skills and gain early exposure to career pathways in both high school and college. A report from Advance Illinois titled The State We’re In 2014 points out that half of public two-year college students in Illinois require additional instruction, such as remedial courses, after graduating high school.  

The Career Pathways program allows students to choose from thousands of individualized career preparation experiences that offer them a chance to participate in internships, attain industry certified credentials, and take college level courses. From fields such as information technology, healthcare, journalism, finance, architecture, and many others, students get a taste of the different skill sets needed for real potential careers. The implementation of the program has allowed for 95% of students to connect with a career pathway before graduation. 

Students are able to choose between 44 career pathways and each year 2,500 students who participate in the Career Pathways program complete a work-based learning experience. When they choose their pathway, they take courses, including those that provide college credits and industry credentials, and participate in opportunities like the Center for Career Discovery, which offers full or micro-internships. At the conclusion of the Career Pathways program, students can graduate with industry credentials and sometimes up to one year of college credit along with other college and career tools and skills.

Since the implementation of the Career Pathways programs, the Chicagoland high school District 214 has seen remarkable successes. Students have been able to attain 37,500 college credits per year and have two million hours of earned workplace learning. To date, more than 950 employers have partnered with the program.

For programs such as Career Pathways to be successful at the community level, it is crucial to engage employers, workforce boards, universities, and other institutions that have the expertise and resources to provide funding, prepare models, and inform educators and administrators on how to effectively implement Career Pathways. As communities across the United States are learning how to deal with the skills gap crisis, it is critical that businesses take the lead in advancing purposeful and effective skills training and work-based learning programs. 

District 214 has been featured on in our campaign to highlight the impact educators, administrators, community leaders, parents, and businesses can have when they join forces to help students succeed.