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John Florez: How about schools for new jobs

Published: Saturday, Aug. 25 2012 12:00 a.m. MDT

If the old jobs are not coming back, where are the new jobs? Is Granite School District on to something?

The new economy requires companies that can deliver a quality, customized and timely product. It's estimated 65 percent of the new jobs will not require a college education but will require higher skills. According to Robert Reich, former Labor secretary, "Manufacturing is coming back to America. As wages rise in China and decline in the United States, and as producers see advantages in being close to American customers, more stuff is being made here." Granite District leaders may be leading the wave of change.

Three years ago, Granite school leaders had the vision of preparing students for industries of the future and launched the BioInnovations Gateway, or BiG, with USTAR (Utah Science Technology and Research) as an incubator for startup medical and biotech companies along with Salt Lake Community College. BiG has been successful in demonstrating how students can best learn in a real work environment that ties in the world of work and the world of school. Students learn there is a reason to learn. The startup companies are those that are creating new products and new jobs that help students develop skills in emerging industries.

BiG becomes a key component in accelerating the return of manufacturing to America that will be different. New companies will require workers who are able to build, test, install, operate, repair and maintain advanced equipment. These are jobs that do not require a college degree but will require the basic hard skills and the soft skills — the ability to work in groups, problem solve and to make effective oral presentations, all of which are taught in the BiG program.

Students at BiG are able to see innovation and to be part of creating new patents. Unlike many of today's schools where students must follow set lesson plans, the BiG program teaches how to test new ideas, understand regulations and make presentations, all part of the real world. The program encourages risk taking and that trial and error is key to innovation. BiG, with the help of USTAR, is able to assist start-up companies without the capital investment by using the program as an incubator, and create new jobs. Students are able to learn new skills needed in today's and tomorrow's high-performance workplace in a flexible and stimulating education environment. Students develop a sense of confidence that helps them see the many doors open to them.

Granite's BiG program has become a laboratory where policy makers can see how innovation and creativity can be nurtured and flourish. While college education is important, so is career and skills training at the high school level, such as that in Germany, equally important in preparing students for an ever-changing workplace.

In 1994, the Clinton administration started the "school-to-work program" that called for schools to help students with career planning and tying in school-based learning with work-based learning. Schools were required to develop Student Education Occupation Plans, or SEOPs, for each student that would allow them and their parents to explore careers. However, it seems schools took the money, and school-to-work fell by the wayside. The program should be revived.

Reich points out, "Over 12 million students are projected to drop out of high school in the next decade, and millions more will graduate with bleak job prospects because they have nothing more than a high school degree. The mismatch between what the new American manufacturers need and what these young people are qualified to do should be viewed as a major opportunity to overcome two problems at the same time and make the economy stronger as a result." Go BiG!

A Utah native, John Florez has been on the staff of Sen. Orrin Hatch, served as former Utah Industrial Commissioner and filled White House appointments, including Deputy Assistant Secretary of Labor and Commission on Hispanic Education. Email him at jdflorez@comcast.net.

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