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Through years of consulting on education issues for state departments of education and local school districts, I’ve witnessed the challenges of implementing educational programs designed to connect high school graduates to college and career. Today’s economic environment – coupled with evolving global competition for jobs – has intensified the pressure on cities and states hoping to grow and sustain their economies by developing a sustainable pipeline of qualified workers.

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To build a robust pipeline of in-demand workers, educators and city leaders must work together to deliver affordable, quality education. In turn, the presence of a well-trained workforce strengthens local economies by attracting and retaining competitive employers. Chicago’s leaders understand this challenge, and embarked on a bold examination of their own educational systems – the Chicago Public Schools, the City Colleges of Chicago, and other education and training providers. Their goal was to develop a strategy to realign educational resources, develop a more educated workforce, and attract more jobs to the city.

Enabled by an IBM Smarter Cities Challenge grant, the City of Chicago pursued its core strategic initiative to forge public-private partnerships between employers and educational institutions. Such partnerships would be essential to identifying needed workforce skills, targeting school curricula to address those needs, and connecting the city’s graduates to meaningful careers. Chicago’s leaders were particularly inspired by IBM’s partnership with the New York City Department of Education and The City University of New York to develop a grades nine through 14 schools model to connect education to industry.

This innovative model – implemented last September at the Pathways in Technology Early College High School (P-TECH) – was designed specifically to create a pipeline from high school to college to employment. Working together to ensure the success of P-TECH graduates, the public and private sectors developed a rigorous and relevant STEM-focused curriculum (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) that culminates with the associate degree; reinforced learning with mentor/protégé relationships for all students and faculty; and will make sure that P-TECH graduates are first in line for job consideration at IBM.

Chicago used its Smarter Cities Challenge grant to pursue two goals:

  • Develop a strategic plan to integrate career and technical education
  • Create a guide – the Roadmap for Career and Technical Education – to opening grades nine through 14 schools

The city is moving ahead with its plan to open five new P-TECH-model schools, each in partnership with a private-sector sponsor.

My six team members and I collaborated with civic and education leaders for three months to develop Chicago’s strategic plan. Starting in October 2011, we conducted a series of interviews to develop an understanding of the existing career and technical education service providers and the needs of the communities they served. We wanted to learn about existing programs, any projected changes, and the challenges that stood between the schools and their goal to deliver quality educational services to students.

To supplement our interviews, we conducted a high-level data analysis of the city’s workforce skills and projected demands. This analysis was critical to determining the industry focus areas of the five new schools – information technology, health care, transportation & logistics, advanced manufacturing, and hospitality. Our analysis confirmed those industries as the most high potential forChicago’s workforce, and mapped the connection between anticipated industry needs and current degree and certificate programs in the city’s education system.

The new playbook that we developed jointly with city and education leaders will serve as the template for deploying the grades nine through 14 schools model. Based on our work, Chicago is now able to develop the five schools to focus specifically on employers’ anticipated needs for a skilled workforce. This model of affordable, quality education will help meet the city’s need for economic growth, and will serve as a blueprint for other cities and communities that need to build a pipeline from education to jobs.

Kirsten Schroeder is a Partner in the K-12 National Practice component of IBM’s Global Services Division. Ms. Schroeder specializes in the development and implementation of business systems as well as business process redesign for public sector clients.

Download the “STEM Pathways to College and Careers Schools: A Development Guide” playbook.

Download the Grades 9-14 Chicago and IBM School Partnership fact sheet.

Related Resources:

Mayor Rahm Emanuel: Building a Smarter Chicago

U.S. News & World Report: Grades 9 Through 14 School Model Strengthens Education-to-Work System

Smarter Cities Challenge, Chicago: Contributing Expertise to Build Sustainable Value

Student Perspective: How P-TECH Inspired New Hope After Just One Semester

Student Perspective: Switching to a Grades 9-14 School

City Forward: Job Outlook in Chicago

City Forward: Chicago Jobs by Industry & Education Level

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February 29, 2012
8:28 AM

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March 1, 2012
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