Breaking out of in-the-box thinking

As a former business person before I started working at ConVal High School in 1997, I sometimes ask, “In education, who is our customer?” A friend noted that she wasn’t sure what the answer was, but she was eager to see how her family would answer the question. Is the customer the student, parents, taxpayers or maybe the employers, or is it colleges?

Harvard’s 2011 “Pathways to Prosperity” report notes that while approximately two-thirds of students in high school go on to college, only 30 percent of young adults in the United States successfully complete a bachelor’s degree. One-third of the jobs created in the coming years are expected to need a bachelor’s degree or higher. Roughly the same amount will need just an associate’s degree or an occupational credential. The report suggests that there should be more pathways to success and more career-driven options in schools.

In my job as the school to career coordinator, I help student interns think about their interests, maybe even their passions, their abilities and job values — and what types of occupations would be a good fit for them and their personality. For each student, there are many jobs that will be a good fit and are worthy of consideration. We are fortunate to have hundreds of businesses who have mentored students in internships and given them the chance to “test drive” a particular job environment and see the skills necessary to succeed in that field.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics Employment Projections for 2012-2022, “Nearly two-thirds of all job openings are expected to be in occupations that typically do not require postsecondary education for entry.” In summary, the Bureau of Labor Statistics notes, “Four major occupational groups are projected to grow more than 20 percent — nearly double the overall growth — from 2012 to 2022: healthcare support occupations (28.1 percent), healthcare practitioners and technical occupations (21.5 percent), construction and extraction occupations (21.4 percent), and personal care and service occupations (20.9 percent).”

So where does that leave us? Do schools make a shift to educate students for the jobs that will be available? The Region 14 Applied Tech Center does offer a variety of career-based courses including LNA certification, construction trades, as well as many business and technical courses. I’d like to encourage more students, especially young women, to consider taking a Career Technical Education class.

One key challenge for education — and for the culture at large — is to come to terms with the fact that “college for all” is not a realistic, or necessary, goal. How do we better serve the majority of students who will be seeking a fulfilling job without the benefit of a four-year college degree?

As a society we can do better about how we value, and pay, the many jobs that are needed to make our world run. Parents can help encourage students to explore courses in high school, as well as post-secondary options, which go beyond the four-year college model. Businesses and schools can further explore partnerships that give real-world training in the skills that businesses, and students, need.

ConVal is currently working on one such partnership with New Hampshire Ball Bearings where students can take an Intro to Manufacturing course with a science teacher at ConVal, and also travel to NHBB to get further training and exposure to the technical skills needed by advanced manufacturing. While that’s just one example, it’s these “outside of the box” models that may well be the future of education.

Mary Lou O’Neil is the school to career coordinator at ConVal High School; she lives in Hancock. For more info about Region 14 Career Tech courses, see For more information about the Bureau of Labor’s information on the 2012-22 labor projections, they are available at

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