The Alabama State Department of Education (ALSDE) represents all schools in the state of Alabama, including 136 high schools. The ALSDE career and technical education (CTE) section is responsible for facilitating career, technical and academic education.
Recognizing a major shortage of craft professionals within Alabama and a need for better career pathways for students, Alabama’s legislature signed into law a requirement for all of ALSDE’s CTE programs to have industry-supported advisory programs to ensure students are career ready upon graduation.
In 2013, ALSDE created industry committees in response to new legislation requiring Alabama CTE programs to have advisory programs to ensure industry has influence on the training process. ALSDE identified representatives for the construction industry advisory committee by utilizing trade associations, like Associated Builders and Contractors and Home Builders Association. The construction advisory committee consists of a diverse group of industry stakeholders ranging from large contractors to state-led utilities to residential builders.
Feedback from all industry advisory committees indicated a strong demand for industry-recognized credentials, so the committees established Career Readiness Indicators, which equate to credentials or certifications that demonstrate a student is ready for career placement. The construction advisory committee strongly supported the use of NCCER curricula for the craft professions because committee members agreed NCCER provided the most widely recognized credentials.
The construction advisory committee meets twice a year to monitor Career Readiness Indicators, evaluate goals, validate curricula and ensure that students are learning in-demand skills. This routine observation and feedback allows industry to refine students’ skills so that they are better suited for employment right out of high school.
Simulating the Workplace
In the fall 2015 semester, ALSDE launched the Alabama Simulated Workplace initiative that creates an environment modeled after the workplace. For example, students log their time and attendance and receive a simulated pay check. The program is designed to build a student’s real-world portfolio, and instead of receiving a letter grade, the student receives practical feedback on how to improve for his or her career. If a student’s portfolio is weak, the student can even be fired.
The Simulated Workplace not only enhances instructional delivery and changes the culture of CTE, but gives students the opportunity to take ownership of their individual performance. By 2018, every Alabama CTE center will become a simulated Alabama company. An essential component of the Simulated Workplace is feedback from industry advisory committees that inspect programs using industry-based rubrics as measurement tools. Each inspection team will review curriculum, interview instructors and students, and observe classroom environments, safety procedures and working processes.
Additionally, students graduating from ALSDE-endorsed workplaces receive not only a high school diploma, but also two credentials. The first credential is from ALSDE representing successful completion of an endorsed program, and the second is an industry credential that the curriculum is based upon. Students learning construction crafts earn NCCER Core or level credentials, which are also Career Readiness Indicators.
An important part of effectively delivering NCCER training to all of Alabama’s CTE students was for the ALSDE to become an NCCER Accredited Training Sponsor. Doing so allowed ALSDE to establish each of its schools that offer construction programs as NCCER Accredited Training Education Facilities. This streamlined the process of delivering NCCER training and assessments, and made it easier for students to obtain NCCER credentials.
To better facilitate career-based decision making among its students, ALSDE requires every student take a one-credit career preparedness course in ninth grade that focuses on academic and career planning prior to graduation.
The career preparedness course has three integrated areas of instruction: academic planning and career development, financial literacy and technology. Students define their career goals and plan their coursework through grade 12. This four-year plan is a dynamic document that can be updated, but it serves as a compass for students’ career paths. The course allows students to spend a year looking at careers and what it takes to get there.
In addition, ALSDE employs 79 career coaches to better educate students on the options available to them. Career coaches act as liaisons between industry, students and parents in each of ALSDE’s schools.
According to Dr. Philip Cleveland, ALSDE’s director of Office of Career and Technical Education / Workforce Development, the Simulated Workplace and Career Preparedness programs have been hugely successful. “They are low cost and have very high impacts,” he said. “The infrastructure for educating students was already in place, so adding curricula that lead to industry-recognized credentials was a relatively small adjustment. Now, students have credentials that industry wants.”
More students are earning in-demand industry credentials than ever before. From 2013 to 2014, NCCER module completions rose by nearly 90 percent and ALSDE expects to see even greater growth in 2015.
ALSDE has undertaken one of the largest and most comprehensive industry-education collaborations in the country. This institutionalized desire for success combined with a huge demand from industry has opened the doors to greatness for ALSDE and has created a model for other state departments of education to implement. While such large-scale efforts can seem overwhelming to take on, bringing stakeholders from education and industry together at the same table to achieve a common goal is critical.
“The first and most important step in collaboration is to go beyond the education system and connect with industry partners,” said Dr. Cleveland. “Education cannot set the target for industry, it has to come from industry.”
ALSDE’s early success has been greatly welcomed from its industry partners who have an unprecedented level of involvement in the education of their future workforce. The end result is good for students, schools and industry.