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Classroom Job Building

A series of Career Planning Guides, now in their third edition in Alabama schools, provide a workforce training curriculum that industrial recruiters see as effective, measurable and one of their best tools.

E-textbooks created with the help of private industry are now informing Alabama students about job paths to industries where skilled workers are needed.

E-textbooks created with the help of private industry are now informing Alabama students about job paths to industries where skilled workers are needed.

It’s downloadable on your smart phone, brightened with information pop-ups, enlivened with video and generally just not your granddad’s textbook. 

It’s the new e-textbook created by Big Communications on behalf of business and education partnerships to entice today’s students into the skilled trades — using the same tools students use for all their other information.

The e-textbook is available as a free download in the Apple iBooks Store. 

“Big Communications — and our president, John Montgomery — is always looking for new, innovative ways to reach our audiences,” says Ryan Dwyer, spokesperson for Big Communications, the firm responsible for producing the e-textbook.

Big Communications worked closely with Go Build Alabama to develop new information delivery methods that would help address the skills gap in the industry. They quickly realized the benefit of the material in the career guides already established by the Alabama Department of Education, Dwyer says.

“Teachers and counselors were already using this information as part of the approved curriculum. The e-textbook combines that information with interactive resources and other Go Build information into one engaging tool for students and teachers.” 

The first e-textbook, released in July, was produced with funds from a grant provided by the Alabama Power Foundation’s Brighter Minds initiative. 

“We saw this e-textbook as an opportunity to help create something that would expose more students to careers in the technical and skilled trades they might not have otherwise considered. It was a perfect fit for us,” says Hallie Bradley, community initiatives manager at the Alabama Power Foundation.  

According to Dwyer, Montgomery and his firm have their sights set on producing all of the other career guides as e-textbooks. 

Philip Cleveland, director of the Alabama State Department of Education’s Career and Technical Education Section (CTES), is in favor of pushing the e-book initiative across curriculum but recognizes that funding is an issue. 

Alabama Power Foundation has always been interested in supporting education, but other public and private partnerships across the state will be necessary, Cleveland says.

“Our goal has always been to provide this information to all students in ways that are convenient and relatable to them. We believe the e-textbook is a good next step,” he says. “It’s important for education to continue to evolve, and to put the information out in ways that are accessible and obtainable by all students. While we still provide the paper documents and the electronic PDFs, this e-textbook provides another way for us to reach students who are already on these devices anyway.”

The e-textbook was released as the third version of the Career Planning Guide for the skilled trades. But it is only the latest update of a much broader innovation in Alabama education — the series of Career Planning Guides produced through the State Department of Education’s Alabama SUCCESS program.

Those career guides are an outgrowth of a remarkable collaboration between business and education leaders in Alabama.

“The benefits for business and industry are infinite,” says Bill Taylor, president of the Economic Development Partnership of Alabama. “Through these conversations, we are identifying specific needs that business and industry have. Education can take those needs and transform them into part of Alabama’s regular education curriculum.”

Manufacture Alabama Director George Clark says continuation of the program is key to the Alabama economy. “It goes right to our sustainability. The state is facing a lot of issues regarding the demographics of our workforce. The baby boomers across all industries are beginning to retire, and we’re going to lose our most seasoned and experienced talent. We’ve got to be prepared to fill in those gaps. Collaboration with education at all levels, and starting at a young age, can help us with that.” 

Five years ago, CTES received a federal grant to begin the development of 16 industry-specific Career Planning Guides that have now become integrated in Alabama’s public education curriculum. 

“The federal grant allowed us the opportunity to pull in business and industry to really dive into the discussion of what they need from educators in the state,” Cleveland says. “We brought together 50 to 75 people from diverse industries to talk about their needs and to help establish the content for these documents.”  

According to Cleveland, the user-friendly documents contain current information from the Department of Labor about careers in 16 universal industries that students may not have otherwise thought of as options for them.

“We want to make sure students can use the guides to not only obtain information about careers in specific industries but also gain the basic knowledge of the types of classes and experience they would need to actually get to a career in that field,” says Meg Smith, education administrator in Career Technical Education Section in guidance and counseling.  

“We want to establish a definite link for students. Businesses have helped us create these guides, which really show students that what they are doing in grades 8 through 12 really can impact what career options they have after high school. Our goal is to help them keep the doors open for their futures,” she adds.  

Today, the guides have been placed into the hands of guidance counselors and career coaches throughout public schools in the state of Alabama. 

Last year, Alabama legislators made career preparedness a mandatory course requirement to earn an Alabama high school diploma. 

“Students are making informed choices,” Cleveland says. “They are choosing what interests them very early on, and they are taking the steps to better the future workforce of the state.” 

On an economic development level, the program and the data generated are a critical part of recruiting for the state, says the EDPA’s Taylor. 

“In economic development, we target specific sectors and industry to establish companies in the state. In order to be successful, education must be a part of the conversation. They have to show there is interest — skillsets being developed in that industry.” 

“With conversations like these happening, business and industry can see direct evidence. Today, education is establishing numbers on how many people are interested or on the pathway to careers in different fields. That is valuable information that allows us to talk factually when recruiting specific companies, versus general statements we could have made in the past,” says Taylor. 

“It’s a process; right now we have approximately two years of comprehensive data,” says Cleveland. “Students go in and take a career assessment, and, as a result of those assessments, we can tell business leadership that ‘x’ amount of students show interest or aptitude for those types of careers.”

As students continue through high school, the data available continues to build. 

Alysha Schertz is a freelance writer for Business Alabama. She lives in Mobile.

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