Thursday, August 20, 2009

Editorial: Alternatives Touted For Student Success

Below is an editorial published yesterday in the Tyler Morning Telegraph supporting my push for Parallel Pathways to Success.

Tyler Morning Telegraph
Wednesday, Aug. 19, 2009

Alternatives Touted For Student Success

If there's a lesson to be learned in today's economy, it's that there's not just one path to success -- or to security.

Many of those out of work today can boast college degrees and advanced qualifications, while many skilled workers know their jobs and their futures are relatively safe.

That's why a new program from the Texas Department of Agriculture deserves such high marks. The Parallel Pathways to Success Pilot Grant Program is designed to fund projects in rural Texas communities that give students the opportunity to earn workforce skills and training, and earn college credit prior to graduation.

"With 46 percent of high school graduates choosing not to pursue a college education annually in Texas, we must present another route -- a parallel pathway -- to the workforce," says Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples. "Life is not about equal outcomes; it's about equal opportunities. Parallel Pathways to Success is a win-win strategy giving students real-life workforce training and sending a signal to entrepreneurs and investors that Texas is serious about providing them a talented workforce."

High schools will partner with local businesses to provide training to students.

Throughout the recession, one employment fact has remained constant: Texas needs skilled workers, and it will soon need many, many more.

As the 'baby boom generation" nears retirement, who will take these experienced workers' place in the workforce?" Texas Workforce Commission Chairman Tom Pauken asked.

He notes that by the end of the decade, an estimated 40 percent of the workforce will have retired or be eligible to do so. That could soon lead to a critical situation.

"Boomer retirements are not the whole explanation for the skilled worker shortage the United States faces, but that shortage suggests how worse matters can get without major rethinking of how we train today's students for tomorrow's jobs," Pauken said. "Employers are already facing the reality of job vacancies not easy to fill with workers whose skills are comparable to those of the men and women their generation is replacing."

That includes welders, pipe fitters and skilled workers in many other trades.

Pauken contends there is a "relative lack of emphasis in U.S. secondary schools on development of workplace skills as opposed to traditional book skills."

Many parents believe college is the best route to a successful future. But the recession has shown in many cases, this is a false hope.

Pauken pointed to the story of "a 25-year-old Portland, Ore., electrician who earns $34 an hour working in renewable energy while some of his friends who went to college are having a hard time finding jobs."

He added, "In fact, the skills these so-called 'blue collar' jobs require and the rewards they afford are impressive by most measures. Those workers are wanted, and not just for the short run."

The Texas Department of Agriculture effort couldn't be timelier. The department has allocated $500,000 for the pilot program.

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