12 Eye-Opening Stats About Health Care Careers

Today’s health care students are unique.

They’re tech-savvy. They have short attention spans. They love to learn, but they are not afraid to ask “why?” – why are you teaching them this task, why are they practicing that concept, why are they studying this topic?

One way to answer those questions is to show your health care students just how in-demand health care careers are. Doing so will give them a better understanding of why the skills they are learning are so important.

This infographic contains 12 eye-opening statistics about health care careers. Download it today to give your students a daily reminder of the career opportunities you are preparing them for.

Learn more: Our latest webinar, Educating Students on Patient Care with Hands-On Learning Method, explores key patient care and sensitivity topics and reviews new ways to engage health care students with hands-on learning methods. Watch it here.

When Fax Machines First Came on the Market

By Diane Ross, M.Ed., Realityworks Senior Field Account Manager for NC, SC, VA, WV

When fax machines first came on the market, a friend told me a story about one of her sales.  She had gone into an office and sold them a fax machine.  She taught the office manager how to use it and everything was good until the next morning.  She was listening to her messages when that same office manager called and said, “I can’t get this fax thing to work.  I keep putting the paper in the machine, but it keeps coming out the other end.”  Funny as it was, just imaging the recipient who kept getting the same fax, over and over.

This reminds me of how far we have come with technology.  It also reminds me of how important it is to have students demonstrate their learning before moving on.

I work for a company that works to reach students by allowing them to try something difficult (or dangerous), in a realistic setting so that they can make better life choices.  They can try their hand at welding, or take a cow apart and feel the ruminant’s texture, or they can see what it is like to care for an infant.

We now start talking to kids about making career choices as early at sixth grade.  This really isn’t too early because the world is a very big place.  Waiting until they are entering high school and using the old ‘tell them over and over the importance of choosing a good career’ doesn’t work with today’s kids.  They want to feel it, touch it and experience it and they want to know what’s in it for them.

One exercise I’ve seen going on is creating a PERSONAL BUDGET.  You can start this in middle school.  Have the student create a monthly budget.  Where do you want to live, then research apartment rents. Don’t forget about utilities.  Do you want a car?  You’ll need insurance and gas.  What about food?

Put this budget together, then start looking at careers.  How much do they pay?  What schooling with they need?  Can they work while in schools?  How much money will you need to support your life?  What careers meet these financial goals.  I think it is important to talk to kids about their financial goals.  How do they want to live?  What is important?  Then, show them how to get to those goals.

Realityworks’ Employability Skills Program can help you get started with these conversations. Our products will help you continue the conversations and allow student to gauge their interest in a field before they commit money toward a goal they really don’t know much about.

For a great overview of what Realityworks has to offer take a look at our 2017 Product Lineup or visit our Products on our website.

Welding Pays Off: The Importance of “Upskilling” in Today’s Welding Education Programs

By Jamey McIntosh, Realityworks RealCareer Product Manager

Every April, educators, students and business leaders come together to bring awareness to and speak about the value of welding. National Welding Month is an annual celebration and recognition of welding’s impact on our world and the important role it plays in our everyday lives. Now is the perfect time to consider just how important it is that our welding students have the skills they need to succeed.

The demand for skilled welders is growing. The American Welding Society predicts a need of almost 200,000 welders in the United States by 2020, while the Manufacturing Institute has stated that in the next decade alone, there will be a need for nearly 3.5 million manufacturing jobs.

To ensure the welding industry is prepared to meet this demand, today’s welding educators and instructors must make certain that their programs and training methods are equipping today’s young people with the skills employers are looking for. And, in a workforce that will increasingly require those who are agile, adaptable and highly qualified, “upskilling” students above and beyond the fundamentals of welding will only make them more employable in a competitive, high-demand industry.

Skills pay off

With an oversupply of entry-level welders and a growing number of skilled welders ready to retire, welding and manufacturing companies are paying more and more attention to welding codes and qualification standards. This means welders who are certified, or who are able to examine and test their own welds, are more attractive than ever before – and their pay reflects that attraction. According to the Fabricators & Manufacturers Association International’s “2013 Salary/Wage & Benefit Survey,” a welder who is certified to AWS, ASME and other codes has the broadest salary range of any shop floor position, up to $83,000 for a base salary, not including overtime and bonuses.

While having basic welding skills can certainly pay off, other skill sets can also pay large dividends. Figure 1 depicts the many paths one can take when considering a welding-related career. For instance, the chart shows the average pay for a welding supervisor and a manufacturing production supervisor. With reported average pay ranges around $12,000 higher than an average welder, these highly skilled positions are rewarded with higher pay.

When speaking with various workforce development boards and companies within the welding industry, it’s not uncommon to hear welding and manufacturing industry representatives say that they routinely pay more per hour for employees who can visually inspect welds and supervise others in the creation of quality welds over those who could simply create the quality welds.

Barring geography, experience, skill level and employer, the message is clear: By focusing on basic skill development and the development of additional career-specific skills such as weld testing and qualification, educators and trainers are opening the doors to higher pay, more benefits and in the long run, more successful careers.

Editor’s Note: This article originally appeared in the November 2016 issue of “Welding Productivity.” Click here to view the article in its entirety.

Instructor Uses In-Helmet Guides to Boost Student Confidence During Live Welding

by Emily Kuhn

For Hutchinson Community College Welding Technology Instructor Greg Siepert, Realityworks’ guideWELD™ LIVE real welding guidance system is a portable, easy-to-use way to rid seasoned welders of bad habits and boost the confidence of first-time welders.

“We struggle with confidence a lot,” said Siepert, who teaches the first year of this Kansas vocational school’s two-year welding program. “When students are in the booth, I can’t tell them in the middle of a weld that they’re right where they need to be, but when they don’t know, even if it looks right, they aren’t confident in their ability. This system gives them real-time feedback on what they’re doing and if it is right or wrong, and it builds their confidence.”

That real-time feedback is provided inside the welding helmet on work angle, travel angle and arc speed during live, arc-on welding. It occurs in the user’s periphery vision, similar to the manner in which video games communicate information to players on-screen or cars communicate speed and mileage to drivers from the instrument panel. With the guideWELD LIVE helmet in place, users see real-time guides on the right and left sides of their vision, and can focus on those guides or their weld as needed during a weld.

The guideWELD LIVE system, which works with almost any MIG welding machine, consists of a welding helmet, speed sensor board and hand sensor. Once the user has calibrated his or her welding gun, he or she can turn on all three indicators simultaneously or focus on only one or two at a time.

“The big application for this system is for those who are struggling with those basics,” said Siepert. “You can give this to them, show them the indicators and watch them make the change.”

According to Siepert, a lack of confidence is a common problem among his first-year welding students. He shared the story of one student who had the skills down but “didn’t feel right about his welds.”

“I had him work with it for 30 minutes,” Siepert recalled, “and he came back and said he got it – and his welds had vastly improved. So did his confidence.”

Although Siepert teaches a beginning welding program, his classes often include students with a range of backgrounds and experiences. In addition to reinforcing basic welding technique and positioning, Siepert also found the guideWELD LIVE system to be a useful supplement for retraining.

“This system is good for students who come out of industry or another program or from being taught at home and had bad habits,” said Siepert. “Habits are hard to break, and this would help – they would know exactly what to correct in real time.”
Being able to easily introduce the system to students of different technical abilities was key, according to Siepert, who started using it with a class of varying abilities. Some students had never welded before, some had some education and one was a displaced worker with no formal education but years of experience.

“The setup is phenomenal because it’s quick and fast,” said Siepert. “I could pick the system up and move it to a booth, and it didn’t involve any modification of what I did. All I had to do was show the student how to use it.”

As Siepert pointed out, however, being able to successfully introduce the system to a new student goes beyond just getting them started. For those who have never seen this kind of technology in a welding shop before, successful implementation can mean establishing an understanding of why this type of tool works – and that it is OK to use.

“As welding education improves and technology improves along with it, and we slowly start moving away from how it’s been done for years, there’s still a consensus that if there are supporting teaching aids used, it’s a walk of shame,” said Siepert. “We’re trying to fight that… this system adds another level to their education.”

The guideWELD LIVE system includes curriculum, which features units on safety, welding defects and welding procedure specifications. Presentation slides, teacher guides, worksheets and tests are provided as well.

“Any time you can take away frustration and build confidence, you gain retention,” said Siepert. “This system is a stepping stone from the virtual world to the real world.”

Reflections on VISION 2016: Why I’m Proud of the Realityworks Team

By Timmothy Boettcher, President & CEO of Realityworks, Inc.

2015 ACTE Business Leader of the Year

Last week, the Realityworks team had the pleasure of exhibiting our experiential learning tools at the largest gathering for Career and Technical Education professionals across the country: the Association for Career and Technical Education (ACTE)’s CareerTech VISION 2016 Conference. As President and CEO of Realityworks, Inc., and a member of ACTE’s Board of Directors, I was extremely proud to be exhibiting and presenting at such a gathering for several reasons

We debuted over a dozen new products for technical education. Educators have long been telling us of their need for innovative new ways to provide targeted skills training and prepare their students for careers. As Chair of the Industry Workforce Needs Coalition and the Western Wisconsin Workforce Development Board, I have seen first-hand the importance of ensuring that today’s students have the chance to learn relevant job skills. The Realityworks team worked hard over the last year to research and design several new products that help educators engage students and prepare them for success in the workforce, and the ability to get live, in-person feedback from the very professionals we designed them for is truly exciting.

Timmothy Boettcher of Realityworks at ACTE's CareerTech VISION 2016

Watch Timmothy Boettcher, President & CEO of Realityworks, Inc., review Realityworks’ new products at ACTE’s CareerTech VISION 2016 Conference, which took place in Las Vegas December 1 & 2.


We connected with our customers. We wouldn’t be the company we are today if it weren’t for the dedicated, passionate educators who support us. From the teachers who first used RealCare Baby® (our flagship product) over two decades ago to those who now implement our new Geriatric Simulator in their health occupations programs and our virtual reality welding simulator in their welding programs, we are thankful for each and every one of them – and we jump at the chance to thank them in person.

We created and fostered partnerships with educators. We are dedicated to meeting the needs of 21st Century educators, and are excited to announce several new solutions to help them engage their students and prepare them for success in the workforce. Attending events like ACTE allows us to learn what educators are struggling with in the classroom and what they are interested in exploring in the upcoming year. That knowledge gives us insight into what is on the horizon for Career and Technical Education, which, in turn, helps ensure we can create products and programs that are truly useful to today’s educators.

Our success as a company depends on remaining profitable, yet profitability alone does not define our success. We measure our impact by how many lives are changed in positive ways, and how profoundly they are changed, as a result of our efforts. The recent Career and Technical Education conference was a wonderful opportunity to connect with our employees and our customers, and I am already looking forward to next year.

Closing the Skills Gap: Progress Occurs when Education & Industry Collaborate

By Timm Boettcher, Realityworks President & CEO

Note: This article originally appeared in the September 28 issue of TheFabricator.com. Read the original post here

According to a report issued by the Pew Research Center, 10,000 baby boomers will turn 65 years old every day for the next 20 years. This means that over the next two decades, there is the potential for thousands of new jobs to become available that must be filled to strengthen the nation’s workforce, economic health, and global competitiveness.

However, two-thirds of hiring managers say they struggle to find talented people to fill job openings.

This skills gap, or disparity between the skills job-seekers have and the skills employers need, can be seen in industries across the nation. For instance, the Manufacturing Institute reports that about 2 million of the nearly 3.5 million manufacturing jobs probably needed in the next decade will be unfilled because of a lack of qualified workers.4 The American Welding Society (AWS) estimates that by 2020, there will be a shortage of 290,000 welding professionals.

Furthermore, the U.S. is losing ground in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) skills in addition to basic skills like literacy and problem solving.6 Businesses are looking not only for technical, job-related skills, but critical thinking, communication, and life skills. Simply too many jobs are available that the unemployed are inadequately trained for.

Through collaboration, industry and education can develop the training and skill development that workers need to fill the thousands of vacancies created by retiring baby boomers in upcoming years and fill the jobs this country needs to remain globally competitive.

Filling the Skilled-Worker Pipeline

Years of research and collaboration have led the Industry Workforce Needs Coalition (IWNC) to view CTE programs as the cornerstone of building a pipeline of skilled workers and closing the skills gap across the country. Contrary to the notion that CTE programs lead to low-wage jobs that cannot compete with those available to four-year college graduates, today’s CTE programs are robust. They combine rigorous academics with relevant, career-specific training—a combination that often leads not only to a high school diploma, but an industry-recognized credential or certificate and a college degree.

In fact, the average high school graduation rate for students concentrating in CTE programs is 90 percent, compared to a national average of 75 percent. More than 70 percent of secondary students concentrating on CTE pursued postsecondary education shortly after high school.7 By engaging students with relevant, career-focused training and academic education, CTE programs can help provide the training necessary to close the skills gap and prepare today’s students for college and career.

This combination of education and training would not be possible without collaboration between industry and education leaders. Such collaboration ensures that CTE programs are providing job-specific technical skills for careers after high school; strong foundations for further postsecondary education; and even the critical thinking and problem-solving abilities, teamwork, creativity, and personal accountability that employers need in their employees.

By partnering with educational institutions, business leaders can help ensure the availability of workers with the skills and abilities businesses need for economic success.

Examples for Success

In December 2011 the Atlantic Council and PricewaterhouseCoopers hosted top business leaders, government entities, and academia to discuss the nation’s skills gap and offer solutions. One of those solutions was that businesses and schools must act collectively to address training issues, a proposal that remains vital today.


Following are a few examples of this collaboration:

  • To help ensure the availability of skilled welders in North Carolina, Caterpillar Inc. partnered with Lee County Schools, Central Carolina Community College, and the North Carolina Department of Commerce to establish a welding youth apprenticeship program. Through this two-year program, which is the largest apprenticeship program in the state, students take welding and manufacturing-related classes in their final years of high school, then train at the college, and eventually work part-time at Caterpillar.

    The program, which was established in 2012, has become an innovative and practical way for industry to fill a pipeline of skilled workers while ensuring that students leave school with marketable skills. By having the opportunity to weld alongside actual Caterpillar employees and get real-world experience, students leave the program not only with academic knowledge, but also with technical skills they can use to succeed in the workforce and in continuing education.

  • The Midwest Training Center for Climate and Energy Control Technologies in Topeka, Kan., which opened in January 2013, was established through a partnership between Trane, Washburn Tech Continuing Education, and the National Coalition of Certification Centers. It uses rigorous curriculum, high-tech equipment, and industry-approved certification methods to provide training in a number of industry sectors, including energy, transportation, and advanced manufacturing. Because the center uses industry-certified training tools and curriculum, program participants graduate with the skills they need to succeed in an in-demand workforce, and with appropriate energy industry certifications. They are ready to seek some level of employment in a field that is estimated to grow 21 percent nationwide between 2012 and 2020.
  • Business leaders can also collaborate with schools by hosting tours of their facilities for students, engaging in speaking opportunities, and even mentoring students. To generate more excitement about business education in high school students, Barrington High School, Barrington, Ill., reached out to local business leaders in 2014 to establish a Business Incubator Startup course.

    This unique course places students in groups to determine a product or service idea, then pairs the groups with local business leaders to research, develop, and eventually pitch their ideas to investors. Business leaders serve as coaches and mentors, guiding groups of students through the real-world process of creating, developing, and validating a business plan.

Giving students hands-on experience, this program teaches both technical skills and soft skills they can apply in careers and post-secondary education.

Like the Barrington High School business course, CTE programs developed through industry-education collaboration bring purpose to participants’ learning experience and future plans while helping meet the workforce needs of local and regional businesses.


  1. http://www.pewresearch.org/daily-number/baby-boomers-retire/
  2. https://www.randstadusa.com/corp/salary-guides/randstad-pharma-2014-workplace-trends-report.pdf
  3. http://money.usnews.com/money/careers/articles/2012/09/10/10-businesses-that-will-boom-in-2020
  4. http://www.themanufacturinginstitute.org/Research/Skills-Gap-in-Manufacturing/Skills-Gap-in-Manufacturing.aspx
  5. http://www.bloomberg.com/bw/articles/2014-03-20/skilled-welder-shortage-looms-in-u-dot-s-dot-with-many-near-retirement
  6. http://www.usnews.com/news/ stem-solutions/articles/2014/10/29/national-science-board-stem-data-explorer-highlights-education-jobs-growth?int=a1e909
  7. https://www.acteonline.org/cte/#.VUo3NflViko
  8. http://www.bls.gov/ooh/installation-maintenance-and-repair/heating-air-conditioning-and-refrigeration-mechanics-and-installers.htm 

Announcing Free Welding Career Exploration Curriculum

By Denise Bodart, Realityworks RealCare Product Manager and curriculum specialist

Welding is widely used in many areas, including construction, manufacturing and other industries. A background in welding can also lead to opportunities in education and management. Unfortunately, the gap between the skills job-seekers have and the skills employers need is continuously widening; the American Welding Society estimates that by 2020, there will be a shortage of 290,000 welding professionals.

We want to do our part to prepare today’s students with job-specific technical skills and provide them with essential opportunities to learn more about these needed careers. That’s why we created our RealCareer Welding Career Exploration curriculum, which takes a closer look at the variety of welding career opportunities available today.


Our RealCareer Welding Career Exploration curriculum contains six lessons that examine the variety of welding careers available today.

In this free, six-lesson curriculum, students participate in a series of activities, research projects and more. Each lesson includes specific step-by-step instructions, measurable objectives, and materials lists. The curriculum aligns to the Common Career Technical Core standards.

Lessons topics include:

  1. Careers in Manufacturing and Production Welding
  2. Career Opportunities in Welding Fabrication.
  3. A Day in the Life of a Welding Engineer.
  4. Exploring a Career in Welding Quality Assurance or as a Certified Welding Inspector
  5. Looking Into a Career as a Pipe Welder.
  6. Exploration of Other Welding-Related Careers.

To access our RealCareer Welding Career Exploration curriculum, click here.

Looking for more career exploration resources for career & technical education programs? Consider the additional curricula we offer:

  • RealCareer Employability Skills curriculum. This free curriculum was created to help students in any program learn the important soft skills needed to prepare for a careers. It features six lessons, which can be used as a standalone unit or as a supplement to an existing career exploration program.

How do you plan to implement this career exploration curriculum in your welding program? Share your ideas in the comments below!

6 Reasons to Download our New Employability Skills Curriculum

By Denise Bodart, Realityworks RealCare Product Manager

Soft skills are necessary for getting, keeping and performing well on a job – according to a recent CareerBuilder.com survey, 77% of employers believe that the less tangible soft skills associated with one’s personality were just as important as hard, or technical, skills. Across the country, schools are being mandated to make their students college- and career-ready, and part of that career-readiness is the teaching of employability skills such as time management, organization, teamwork, problem-solving, critical thinking and leadership. After all, finding workers who have employability or job-readiness skills that help them fit into and thrive in the work environment is a real challenge for current employers.

That’s why we are excited to offer a FREE employability skills curriculum to help teach these important skills, which you can download at no cost by clicking here. Our six-lesson RealCareer Employability Skills Program can be used as a stand-alone unit on soft skills, or as a supplement to an existing career exploration program.


Realityworks’ six-lesson RealCareer Employability Skills Program can be used as a stand-alone unit on soft skills, or as a supplement to an existing career exploration program.

Aren’t convinced yet? Here are 6 reasons you should download this new curriculum for your program:

Reason #6: This curriculum will help your students understand time management at work. Lesson 6, “Time Management at Work,” covers the benefits of what improved time management, practical information on identifying and overcoming barriers to time management, and more!

Reason #5: This curriculum will help your students use technology in the workplace. Lesson 5, “Using Technology in the Workplace,” explores the impact of technology in the work place and gives hands-on work with technical skills by creating PowerPoint presentations, Excel spreadsheets, using the Internet and more.

Reason #4: This curriculum will help your students learn to use critical thinking skills. Lesson 4, “Problem Solving and Critical Thinking,” discusses the steps to solving a problem effectively through hands-on practice with critical thinking skills used in the workplace.

Reason #3: This curriculum will teach your students how to utilize teamwork in the workplace. Lesson 3, “Effective Teamwork in the Workplace,” presents a series of teamwork tasks versus individual solutions and shows how effective teamwork skills can benefit the workplace.

Reason #2: This curriculum will teach your students effective communication skills. Lesson 2, “Effective Communication Skills,” provides opportunities to practice verbal and non-verbal communication skills, as well as examine how we communicate with family and friends, employers and colleagues.

Reason #1: This curriculum will help your students prepare for job interviews. Lesson 1, “Preparing for a Job Interview,” teaches the stages of a job interview and specific tips for preparing for a job interview including standard questions to and writing a proper thank-you letter.

The importance of soft skills in the workplace cannot be underestimated. After all, your student’s technical skills might get them in the door of a future employer, but their soft skills will help them maintain that job and turn it into a career. Click here to access our full RealCareer Employability Skills Program or individual lessons. 

How do you plan to use this curriculum? Let us know in the comments!

What does CTE Month mean to you? 3 Questions for Realityworks CEO Timm Boettcher

As Career & Technical Education (CTE) Month 2015 kicks off this week, asked Realityworks CEO Timm Boettcher to tell us, in his own words, what CTE Month means to him. In addition to presiding over our experiential learning company, Timm chairs the Industry Workforce Needs Coalition, a group created by American business leaders to increase the population of skilled workers in the US through better alignment between the educational system and industry. Timm was also named the Association of Career and Technical Education’s (ACTE) 2015 Business Leader of the Year for his sustained commitment to improving CTE.


CTE Month is an annual celebration held in February of CTE community members’ achievements and accomplishments nationwide. This year’s theme is “Recognizing Classroom Innovators.”

What does CTE Month mean to you?

Right now, US business leaders are faced with a significant challenge: fill the skills gap with educated, qualified professionals. CTE can be the answer to training these professionals in high-demand areas, but awareness and advocacy for CTE programs is needed. CTE Month is a great opportunity to generate that needed awareness and advocacy while showcasing the benefits of CTE programs and bringing together business leaders, CTE educators and students.

Why is it important to recognize CTE Month this February and year-round?

CTE Month is a time to bring awareness to a type of program that can benefit students and businesses alike through joint efforts of ACTE, businesses, educators and students. While CTE Month provides a platform on which to promote the value of CTE programs alongside entities across the nation, regular and constant advocacy is needed to connect educators with business leaders and develop CTE programs that match curricula to industry requirements and ensure students receive skills needed for employment.

What steps do you recommend business leaders take to engage with educators in their area during CTE Month?

By engaging in the development of programs, business leaders can help educators match curricula to industry requirements to be sure students receive skills needed for employment. Business leaders can also support schools that are training their future workforce by allowing for schools to tour their businesses, engaging in speaking opportunities and helping fund programs. Business leaders can even become active in organizations like the IWNC and other workforce development boards, and speak out to political leaders about the benefits of CTE programs to their businesses.

What does CTE Month mean to you? Share your thoughts in the comments below, and stay up-to-date on programs, products and ideas we generate regarding CTE by subscribing to our blog.

How local industry-education collaboration can address the regional skills gap

By Timm Boettcher, Realityworks President & CEO

This article was published in the Chippewa Valley Business Report on January 27. See the full article here

As chairman of the Industry Workforce Needs Coalition (IWNC), a group of United States business leaders striving for improved alignment between industry and the educational system, I’ve worked with companies large and small to understand the “skills gap,” or disparity between the skills job-seekers currently have and the skills employers need to fill open positions. When the IWNC was first formed in 2012, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported the unemployment rate in the U.S. at over 8 percent; as of November 2014, the unemployment rate was just under 6 percent.

Despite this 2-percent decrease over the last two years, employers continue to report an inability to fill open jobs. Careerbuilder.com’s 2014 Skills Gap Study reports that half of the employers surveyed had open jobs for which they could not find qualified candidates, and the Manufacturing Institute’s recently-released Close the Skills Gap Call to Action reports that 80 percent of manufacturers still cannot find the skilled workers they need.

Why does such a shortage continue to exist? Years of research and collaboration has led the IWNC to see Career and Technical Education (CTE) programs as the cornerstone to building a robust workforce pipeline and closing the skills gap — here in the Chippewa Valley and across the nation. After all, CTE programs not only provide job-specific technical skills for careers after high school and strong foundations for further post-secondary education, but the critical thinking and problem-solving abilities, teamwork, creativity and personal accountability that employers need in their employees.

While at a CTE conference in Atlanta last November, students had the chance to try Realityworks’ guideWELD LIVE real welding guidance system, an educational tool used in secondary and post-secondary CTE courses to provide students with hands-on welding education.

Unfortunately, CTE programs are not being utilized to their full capacity due to a misperception of program value and a lack of the industry-education partnerships that would make such programs strong. A change in the overall attitude toward CTE programs and enriched collaboration between industry and education would help make CTE programs more successful and appealing to students.

An image problem

Industry trades are often seen as low-wage, less ideal career options than the high-wage, idyllic four-year degrees so many of us were taught to strive for. When campaigning for skilled trade careers, former Dirty Jobs host and CTE advocate Mike Rowe often references the “Work Smart, Not Hard” poster from his high school guidance counselor’s office in the 1970s. Part of an educational campaign at the time to push students toward four-year college degrees, the poster featured a proud, smiling worker wearing a graduation cap and gown and holding a diploma next to a defeated-looking, dirty worker wearing overalls and holding a wrench. At the time, a variety of career options were often misperceived as dirty, hard work while college degrees were worthwhile.

CTE programs are the heart of the training needs, combining academics with rich, career-focused training. They utilize advanced technology and align with rigorous academics and post-secondary education, providing students with in-demand science, technology, math and engineering (STEM) skills along with hands-on, career-specific skills they can build on. Contrary to the image of a defeated-looking worker, receiving early education in career areas leaves students in a position to succeed whether they choose to enter the workforce or continue their education. Early education in career areas creates the lifelong learners our nation needs to maintain a robust workforce.

Although educational campaigns have improved since that “Work Smart, Not Hard” message Rowe recalls from the ‘70s, more awareness is needed to help parents, students and administrators understand the vital role CTE plays in preparing our youth for their futures.

Collaboration is key

CTE has its origins in apprenticeships and on-the-job training; these programs are a natural fit with business. In fact, a hallmark of today’s CTE programs is the partnership between high school and post-secondary institutions. Such partnerships enable the achievement of industry-recognized credentials, certifications and degrees that prepare students to be both college- and career-ready.

A regional example can be found in Hudson’s WESTconsin Credit Union, which was one of eight Wisconsin businesses to receive the Business Friends of Education Award at the state’s 2014 CTE conference. This western Wisconsin financial institution was recognized for its five-year partnership with the Hudson School District, through which it employs student apprentices, offers experiential learning opportunities, organizes career exploration events for jobs in the field of finance and shares real-world job information to ensure that students graduate well-prepared for college and career.

Another example is Strum’s Cardinal Manufacturing. Created from Eleva-Strum Central High School’s top-level welding and machining classes to address the shortage of skilled workers in the local welding and machining industry, this student-run machine shop produces parts for local and regional customers. Profits are re-invested in the business with a percentage paid to student workers, who are provided with an opportunity to learn the necessary professional and technical skills to make them career-ready.

Additionally, local and regional businesses can select from a steady pool of job applicants skilled in precision machining, welding and metalworking. This provides businesses with a more robust pipeline of workers and provides students with a solid foundation for career paths of their choosing.

As these examples illustrate, partnerships between industry and secondary institutions help businesses find qualified workers and provide students with industry-needed knowledge and skills; they help them engage students, achieve industry-needed skills and transition successfully into careers or college. However, more partnerships are needed.

What can Chippewa Valley business leaders do now?

In December 2011, the Atlantic Council and PricewaterhouseCoopers hosted top leaders of businesses, government entities and education to discuss the nation’s skills gap and offer solutions. Although three years have passed since that meeting and the country’s unemployment rate has decreased from just over 9 percent to just under 6 percent, the solutions presented at this roundtable remain vital for addressing the disparity between the skills job-seekers currently have and the skills employers need to fill open positions, here in the Chippewa Valley and across the nation. Among the many solutions proposed by that group to address the skills gap, one was aimed directly at industries today: businesses, governments and schools must act collectively to address training issues.

Where can business leaders in the Chippewa Valley look to help ensure such opportunities are provided? One resource is YourFutureChippewaValley.com, a free website that was created earlier this year by the Chippewa Valley Skills Gap Project Partnership, the Eau Claire, Chippewa and Dunn County economic development corporations as well as Realityworks, Inc. to help connect local businesses, organizations, school districts and high school students.

YourFutureChippewaValley.com connects local businesses, organizations, school districts and high school students to find career opportunities, build job skills and more.

This website enables students to navigate possible career paths and work-based learning opportunities as they become familiar with area businesses and organizations. It also allows businesses to partner with educators and students as businesses make opportunities within their own companies known. The goal of these efforts is to help institutions across the Chippewa Valley, from employers and economic development groups to secondary and post-secondary educational institutions and government organizations, adapt and respond to Chippewa Valley workforce needs — and there are several ways you can help ensure this goal is met.

YourFutureChippewaValley.com provides a multitude of opportunities for Chippewa Valley businesses to connect directly with students. Through the website, businesses can offer 30- to 60-minute mock interviews, informational interviews or resume reviews, providing students with an opportunity to develop their interviewing skills. Businesses can be career mentors, providing answers, advice and encouragement to students seeking similar careers. Businesses can exhibit at career fairs, allowing students and community members to visit with multiple companies in a single day. Businesses can arrange job shadowing opportunities, providing students with a better understanding of their profession and industry.

Learn more about the opportunities provided by YourFutureChippewaValley.com and the high-demand skills needed in Western Wisconsin by reading the full article here