The Importance of Listening Closely to Students and Recent Graduates in Technical Fields

A major topic at the first gathering (August 10) of the Advisory Council for “Great Jobs Without a Four-Year Degree” was a series of meetings my American Experiment colleagues and I hope to host for people in the multifaceted field.  It was an early conversation, and not just because it started at 7:30 a.m.

A main gist of our discussion was that young people studying technical subjects, often in community colleges, as well as those who have been working in technical fields for several years, should be afforded more opportunities to share their stories on a regular basis with seasoned ladies and gentlemen like us.  While the young men and women surely would gain from the experience, the larger benefit would derive to the salt-and-peppered.

Here are a few excerpts from the transcript of our conversation.  They’ve been edited for clarity since conversations involving a dozen or so people always need to be massaged.  But also in this instance because the heroic transcriber had a hard time hearing clearly given the clanging of silverware at Perkin’s.

“I’d bring in those young people,” a college educator said, “maybe second-year students who could talk about their experiences.  What led them to enroll in a technical program?  How were they influenced?  How did they overcome the perception that career and technical education is not as good as other kinds?  Then I’d bring in people who were three-year, five-year, and seven-year veterans of technical jobs to talk about their experiences.  You get a roomful of folks like that and we’ll learn more about how we can better inform other young people about the great opportunities out there, as well as better inform people in their lives about those opportunities, including their parents.”

He also talked about the importance of involving human resource professionals in the proposed meetings; men and women who labor trying to find highly qualified candidates for demanding technical positions in a variety of fields – including agriculture, as was pointed out.  How to help them better connect with students and people already out of school and perhaps drifting?  How to help them encourage students and former students to enroll in one-year, two-year, and other technical programs?  “Human resource people,” he said, “have big problems right now, and they’re only going to get worse.”

Ninety minutes after the Advisory Council meeting ended, another participant, also a college official, sent me an email that followed up perfectly on points just made.  “I feel strongly,” he said,

whoever makes up the audience at such meetings – prospective students, critical influencers, counselors, etc. – they will be most receptive to what I call the “career enthusiasts.”  I see these individuals as a cadre of mostly under-thirty types who are successfully engaged in career ad technical education.  They include both current students and relatively recent graduates (men and women with less-than-seven years on the job) who are successful and enthusiastic workers in industries we are seeking to build interest in.  We fifty-somethings and sixty-somethings who “get” the problem but who cannot convey the message to younger people need to recruit our “union of enthusiasts” to carry messages to their peers.

“There is work to be done,” the Advisory Council member continued, “to pull this off.  But the more difficult piece,” he added, “is getting in front of prospective career and technical education students, these being tenth-to-twelfth-grade high school students.  As well as those who may or may not have graduated high school in the last five-to-eight years but are out there without a certificate, diploma, or employable skill.”  This last point is vital.

But where to find many of these young and somewhat older people?  He noted that the State Fair was approaching and that Machinery Hills is a “magnet for young people who love to be around that stuff.”

A brilliant idea, regardless of the proximity of French Fries.