Can High School Students Use Labor Market Information to Make Informed Career Choices?
High school students from Star Lane Center in the Natrona County School District were shown how to access occupational projections, wages, and other data provided by the Research & Planning section of the Wyoming Department of Workforce Services. The students were tasked with analyzing their chosen career paths and presenting their findings to the Wyoming Workforce Development Council.
A recent partner project between the Research & Planning (R&P) section of the Wyoming Department of Workforce Services and Star Lane Center, a high school program of the Natrona County School District (NCSD), helped students use Labor Market Information (LMI) with minimal supervision to make informed career choices and assess vocational training opportunities proposed by the school district. R&P worked with the students and faculty to develop a series of questions for students to address during the course of the project.
The project required students to use occupational projections and wage information to analyze their chosen career paths in terms of the education required for the career and the potential for earnings once employed. Students were also asked to assess some of the vocational training opportunities proposed by NCSD’s forthcoming Center for Advanced and Professional Studies (CAPS) program. Students were given access to occupational wages, projections, and other R&P data in order to complete the project. Occupational wages and projections information used by the students can be found on R&P’s website at http://doe.state.wy.us/LMI/projections.htm.
The project was led by Tony Glover and Michele Holmes from R&P, and instructor George Vlastos from Star Lane Center. Star Lane is a unique half-day high school program in Casper which uses problem-based learning to fulfill curriculum requirements and give students the skills they need to succeed in the workforce. The project between R&P and the Star Lane students culminated with a presentation of the students’ findings to the Wyoming Workforce Development Council (WWDC) in Casper (see Figure). The WWDC “was established by Governor’s Executive Order 1998-1, reconstituted under the Workforce Investment Act of 1998, and further reconstituted under Governor’s Executive Order 2009-1” (WWDC, n.d.). The Council’s mission is to “shape strategies and policies to develop, recruit and retain Wyoming’s workforce.”
During the students’ presentation to the WWDC, students demonstrated their ability to create a career plan using R&P datasets and O*NET OnLine (http://www.onetonline.org). Students analyzed R&P occupational projection data to look at the annual wages and job openings for the CAPS occupations, compared the U.S. workforce development system to other countries’ systems, and concluded by explaining how their experience with a problem-based curriculum like the one at Star Lane has prepared them to acquire the technical and soft skills needed to successfully enter the workforce. After the presentation, the students took part in a question and answer session with WWDC members.
Star Lane Center is currently the only high school program in Casper that uses the problem-based approach to fulfill curriculum requirements. According to the NCSD website, their “curriculum is embedded in a series of problems, issues, scenarios, ideas, or concepts that are timely, relevant and, we hope, intriguing. We contact community members and/or professionals with expertise in fields related to our ideas to help us craft a problem that will lead students to the required high school subject matter. The experts also suggest what the final product should include and who should be the audience for the final presentation” (NCSD, n.d.).
In the Star Lane model, there are no tests; students demonstrate their subject matter knowledge during the construction and presentation of a final presentation. Science requirements are met by analyzing complex data and forming hypotheses; English requirements are met by assimilating and communicating research findings to a group of experts in the field. Each five-week project culminates in a multimedia presentation to community experts and stakeholders, and students must participate in a question and answer period after their presentation.
The problem-based approach to learning is something the NCSD plans to expand through its Pathways to 2025 program, which encompasses four new career tracks and will give students the opportunity to enter a specific career academy beginning in 2015. According to a recent article in the Casper Star-Tribune on the district’s new system, the program will allow students to focus on “real problems” and “real issues,” making the curriculum more valuable to students entering the workforce upon graduation (Todd, 2014). According to Todd, the “district’s goal is to engage more students, increase graduation rates, close achievement gaps throughout the district and better prepare students for a transition to college, the workforce, or other training programs.” The goals of the new Pathways to 2025 program are similar to the goals of Star Lane Center, and focus on readying students with the skills they need to enter the workforce after graduation.
Overall this initial pilot effort produced a valuable experience for the students.
“The problem statement did a fine job of orienting the students to the realities of the workforce and what’s in place to help them prepare for a career,” Star Lane Instructor George Vlastos said. “It also provided them with well-defined expectations in terms of outcomes, both individually, culling relevant information from a variety of databases to make their career plans, and collectively working as a group to analyze specific data for the sake of producing short videos and making recommendations of how high schools should ready graduates for the workforce. (It was) rather astounding watching the students wrap their minds around what is waiting for them in the working world. They recognize the positive as well as the negative aspects of the careers they’re considering and have a firm understanding of what Wyoming and the surrounding region hold for their future. The impact of this unit opened eyes and changed minds, no doubt for the better.”
R&P plans to pursue other projects with Star Lane Center, such as working closer with the WWDC to formulate a problem statement for the students.
To view the presentation given by the Star Lane students to the WWDC, visit http://www.starlanecenter.com/slideshows.php.
Natrona County School District. (n.d.). Retrieved January 9, 2014, from http://www.natronaschools.org/school.php?id=80
Todd, L. (2014, January 4). 2014 Look Ahead: Natrona County School District set to roll out project-based learning. Casper Star-Tribune. Retrieved January 9, 2014, from http://tinyurl.com/pzyvy62
Wyoming Workforce Development Council. (n.d.). Retrieved January 9, 2014, from http://www.wyowdc.org/council/