Schools Tackling the Soft Skills Deficit

Educators around the region are implementing project- and career-oriented learning to engage kids. But in the Center School District, at least, another key constituency is excited too.

Neal Weitzel is the director of college and career readiness in the district, which is located in Kansas City, Missouri, and he recounted parents’ reaction at a recent orientation for its Center Professional Studies program.

“When I just would ask them afterwards how did it go, they felt like they knew what their student was doing. They felt like there was a purpose behind the courses their student was taking,” Weitzel said.

That felt good, he said, “because the hard part with education right now, is ‘What is my student learning? What are they gaining here?’”

Those are valid concerns because local businesses have similar questions about their potential workforce. And, as the video above notes, industry is telling educators that graduates need better “soft skills,” such as critical thinking and adaptability, that vocationally focused coursework provides.

This type of curriculum, referred to today as “career and technical education,” is a modernized version of what used to be known simply as “vocational education.” The latter term developed a second-class reputation as a track for kids who were not cut out for college, even though voc ed students could pursue solidly middle class professions.

CTE leaders like Weitzel stress that their programs are agnostic when it comes to college versus career.

“What we’re trying to do is make sure that every student receives a skill set, or an opportunity, or a learning experience that will help support whatever they want to achieve when they leave our district,” he said. Whether that means college or a job is a decision left up to the student and their parents.

And that leads to another feature of CTE: stackable credentials.

Take, for instance, someone who wants to become a nurse. Through a program like Center Professional Studies, the student might become qualified to work as a certified nursing assistant right out of high school. From there, while the student is earning money, they can continue their education to become a full-fledged nurse with a four-year degree or beyond.

What it all boils down to, Weitzel said, is providing students with solid early professional skills that will help them be employable no matter what path they take after high school. “That choice,” he said, “will be theirs to determine.”

— Kansas City PBS is examining the issue of workforce development as part of its participation in the national American Graduate: Getting to Work project, an initiative made possible by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Follow #AmGradKCPT on Facebook and Twitter for local American Graduate content and #AmGrad to see content from across the United States.

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