Oklahoma public schools are in the midst of an intensified re-focus on students’ careers after graduation.
The Individual Career Academic Plan, or ICAP, was championed by the state Department of Education and signed into law in 2017.
It is backed by a $2 million private grant, which has aided the development of an online career advising toolkit for use by public schools. The intent of ICAP, according to State Superintendent of Schools, Joy Hoffmeister, is to encourage more students to advance beyond a high school diploma. This might include college, vocational education or both.
Canadian Valley Technology Center staff has been assisting area schools so they can meet ICAP criteria that includes individual self-discovery, career exploration, academic planning and personal financial literacy.
“We strive to help students understand that high school graduation is a checkpoint and not the endpoint,” said CV Tech Job Readiness Specialist Kati Davis. “ICAP will guide students in exploring careers, setting goals and developing a plan to reach their own success.
“ICAP is meant to support the student with help from their school as well as their family. It will enable them the flexibility to revise their goals as needed, plan for their future, align their courses with their goals and understand who they are as a person and how that aligns with careers.”
Personal graduation plans are nothing new nationwide – nearly three dozen other states have ratified them. Davis said ICAP affords students opportunities to participate in work-based learning for specific careers and offers them hands-on experiences to gauge their career interests.
Craig McVay, El Reno Public Schools Superintendent, said ICAP has formalized what career educators have been doing for years.
“ICAP requires students and their parents or guardians to look at their future and what that might look like,” he said. “Generation after generation of school kids have looked at graduation as the end goal when in fact, graduation, by definition is intended as the real beginning. The definition of ‘to graduate’ we always fall back on is to move up to a more advanced level or position. ICAP recognizes that the process of education is to help students move on and up.
“The partnership between El Reno Public Schools and Canadian Valley Tech to provide career exploration options completely reinforces that option.”
Oklahoma education officials sought a strong response in light of eye-opening analysis provided by the state Office of Workforce Development. The study predicts that by 2028, nearly 70 percent of Oklahoma jobs will require education or training beyond high school. The data also shows just 54 percent of Oklahomans currently meet the educational needs that will be required, resulting in a large pool of untapped talent.
A 2018 report published by the related Governor’s Council for Workforce and Economic Development projects a worker shortage of nearly 20,000 people over the next several years in Oklahoma.
Contributing factors listed in the report are an aging population, low workforce participation rates and low unemployment. The solution, according to the Council’s report, includes keeping skilled workers in-state, increasing the workforce participation rate and recruiting talent from other states.
ICAP was phased in during a two-year pilot program at more than 50 middle schools and high schools statewide, including Mustang and Yukon in CV Tech’s immediate area. Freshmen this year are the first to be required to show ICAP progress in order to graduate.
A PROACTIVE APPROACH
CV Tech, which opened in 1970, features two dozen career fields in which high school students can enroll for a half-day. Adults have the added option of attending all day. Additionally, dozens of short-term classes are also available, mostly at night.
Staff at CV Tech has developed a multi-year approach aligned with ICAP standards, beginning with an eighth-grade event called Reality Check. The event is a real-world look into finances and gives students an idea of how to budget for fixed living expenses. Ninth graders are treated to CV Tech’s Career Conference, in which students participate in work-based learning experiences covering a wide variety of careers.
At the 10th-grade level, CV Tech staff provide a discovery activity on-site that is linked much more to program options at CV Tech. At the event, students choose two programs to shadow for 20 minutes. During high school senior conferences at both Mustang and Yukon, CV Tech staff also make pitches for adult-only programs, such as Aviation Maintenance, Medical Coding, Practical Nursing and Wind Energy.
Adult students under age 24 who enroll in a CV Tech program qualify for free tuition if they live in the school’s district area that encompasses any of its partner schools. Each must also have a high school diploma or equivalent.
CV Tech provided a variety of activities for area high schools to help them meet new ICAP standards. The school offers career exploration, career fairs and facility tours – all of which are among ICAP mandates. Staff at those schools have expressed their appreciation.
“We took all our ninth-grade students to Canadian Valley’s freshman career conference this year,” said Tuttle College and Career Readiness Coordinator Susan Hinckley. “The feedback I heard was that the students really enjoyed it.
“Getting to see hands-on some of the programs and learning about other options that they may not have ever thought about is certainly a benefit. Anytime we can get our kids on a Career Tech campus is a win.”
Tuttle is helping ninth-graders meet all ICAP requirements, including the interest inventories. In addition, middle school students are provided career exploration and interest inventories. Activities are also provided to fourth- and fifth-graders, and school officials plan to expand introductory activities with early elementary students. The school has also partnered with area businesses to place high school students in internships, which is also urged as part of ICAP implementation.
THE SKILLS GAP
Workforce Development’s study indicates employers statewide struggle to find talent to fill open jobs. The study shows available jobs will require only a slight increase in four-year degrees and fewer advanced degrees.
Census figures show just 16 percent of Oklahomans complete a bachelor’s degree, and 8 percent finish a master’s or doctoral degree. The overwhelming demand, according to the study, will be for those who receive an associate degree and those with work-ready certificates available at technology centers.
The year 2020 has begun with roughly 7.3 million unfilled jobs nationwide, according to the latest information supplied by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.