P-TECH schools have established a model for how to empower young people with the skills required by both “new collar” jobs and continuing education.
* By Maria Leggett *
A few years after MHI’s Career and Technical Education (CTE) program was established as an approach to addressing both the current and future shortage of skilled workers needed throughout supply chains, the first P-TECH school launched in Brooklyn, NY. When that program opened its doors in September 2011, the P-TECH—short for Pathways in Technology Early College High—approach established a model for how to empower young people (including those identified as disadvantaged) with the academic, technical and professional skills required by both “new collar” jobs and continuing education.
The P-TECH school format grew from an initiative created by IBM in partnership with educators, policymakers and elected officials. It combines high school and college coursework taken simultaneously with engagement from one or more business partners. The businesses commit to advising the academic partners on curriculum, as well as to providing both mentors and internships for students.
The program extends a typical four-year high school program to six years (although a particularly motivated student can finish it in four years), during which time students complete the requirements for high school graduation while also earning an industry-recognized, two-year, post-secondary associate degree. P-TECH programs and degrees target entry-level jobs in the science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields from which students can earn a middle-class salary. The program is completely free to students and—since its 2011 inception—has been replicated by more than 120 schools in eight U.S. states, Taiwan, Morocco and Australia, with more locations launching this fall.
Three-prong partnership yields multiple benefits
Among those new programs launching this September is one at STEM School Highlands Ranch, located in a south Denver, CO, suburb. Offering a STEM-focused curriculum to students from kindergarten through 12th grade, it’s one of only seven approved P-TECH schools in the state.
“For STEM School Highlands Ranch, we saw embarking on a P-TECH program here as an opportunity to help students be prepared for industry- and technology-driven careers that are relevant,” said Mike Shallenberger, the school’s Engineering Department chair.
In early 2017, the school connected with Ray Johnson, IBM corporate citizenship manager for 11 western states, including Colorado. In his role, Johnson helps with all aspects of establishing a P-TECH program. That includes helping state-level education agencies lay the legislative groundwork for the creation and operation of such a program—as P-TECH schools are part of the public-school system—as well as presenting and explaining the concepts to educators and industry. Johnson also helps those leaders make connections to establish, develop, nurture and grow a successful program.
“Speaking big picture, the overall benefit is that a P-TECH program helps students who may not have previously had a chance in—or didn’t think they could be prepared for—today’s workforce. We’re targeting what IBM calls ‘new collar’ jobs, which are the ones that are changing so quickly that if students aren’t prepared, we are all going to lose,” Johnson said.