Youth CareerConnect: Equipping Students for the Future

President Obama stopped by Bladensburg High School in Maryland on Monday to announce the winners of the inaugural Youth CareerConnect program. The school, along with two other high schools in Prince George’s County, is being awarded $7 million as part of the program. Overall, 24 Youth CareerConnect awards across the country will provide $107 million to high schools and their partners as they redesign the teaching and learning experience for students to more fully prepare them for a successful future.

The program, administered by the U.S. Department of Labor in collaboration with the U.S. Department of Education, will help prepare 2,500 graduates at Bladensburg and other schools to succeed academically and graduate career-ready in high-demand fields such as information technology and health care.

“I’m announcing a new challenge to redesign America’s high schools so they better equip graduates for the demands of a high-tech economy,” Obama said during his 2013 State of the Union address. “We’ll reward schools that develop new partnerships with colleges and employers, and create classes that focus on science, technology, engineering, and math – the skills today’s employers are looking for to fill jobs right now and in the future.”

The Youth CareerConnect program encourages America’s school districts, institutions of higher education, the workforce investment system, and their partners to scale up evidence-based high school models that will transform the high school experience for America’s youth. Participating schools will strengthen America’s talent pipeline through:

  • Integrated Academic and Career-Focused Learning
  • Work-Based Learning and Exposure to the World of Work
  • Robust Employer Engagement
  • Individualized Career and Academic Counseling
  • Integration of Post-secondary Education and Training

Secretary of Education Arne Duncan recently met with a school community in Massachusetts that shares the same approach as the Youth CareerConnect program. Worchester Technical High School, which earned the U.S. Education Department’s recognition as a Blue Ribbon School in 2013 thanks to students’ high performance, meaningfully engages students in relevant experiences that provide a link to future college and career pathways. The school went from being one of the worst in the district to one of the best in the nation with a 95 percent graduation rate and a 1.3 percent dropout rate.

During his visit, Duncan participated in a town hall discussion on career and technical education with high school teachers, community college officials and business leaders.  The school’s strong leadership and willingness to embrace the community left an unforgettable impression on Duncan.

“I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a school that is more open, whether it’s higher ed partnerships, whether it’s business partnerships, whether it’s literally inviting the community into your school every single day … this school is an extraordinary community asset,” he told the audience.

Today’s announcement of the Youth Career Connect program recognizes that many local districts and school leaders, as well as many of their national and local workforce partners, have been working together to provide these workplace relevant opportunities for students for quite some time, and it builds off of the collective experiences of these local partnerships. Ultimately, this program complements additional proposals in the President’s 2015 budget, and supports the President’s broader agenda to strengthen education to more effectively prepare young people for college and careers.

Brenda Dann-Messier is the Assistant Secretary for the Office of Vocational and Adult Education.