Rep. Patricia Mueller: Schools should help students find nontraditional career pathways

Published 5:25 pm Tuesday, November 7, 2023

For decades, the education to career pipeline has been clear and unchanging: elementary school, middle school, high school, four years of college, then career. However, that’s not how the job market works anymore. Unfortunately, there are precious few pathways that give students a different choice.

Luckily in and around our district, there are a number of programs that give students a way to further their education while pursuing a career of their choice. In Austin, there’s the Creating Entrepreneurship Opportunities program, where students get to create their own business and learn how to make it a success, as well as learning about many of the great businesses in our community. In Grand Meadow, there’s a simulator for students pursuing their CDL license.

Midwest Machinery pays for their employees to pursue higher education while working. Riverland Community College has partnerships with welding and trucking companies to train students in those fields. Steele Co Works connects students with internships and apprenticeships, and helps them develop new skills for students exploring different jobs and career paths.

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Some school districts are intentionally examining their course offerings and how the building promotes career pathways, Owatonna’s new high school was built intentionally with career pathways in mind. Shakopee High School has a career pathways program that helps students narrow down their areas of interest and direct them towards careers that align with their interests.

This conversation is so important because every job creator has shared about their own hiring crisis. It is hard to find employees to hire. I’ve also been talking with local employers and schools to expand and improve apprenticeship programs, so students can get an early look at jobs they may want to pursue and understand what is needed to start their chosen careers.

Even with these amazing resources though, more needs to be done to make sure students across the state can achieve their goals without having to go through classes that are unrelated to their chosen professions, massive student loans that could take decades to repay, and spending years on a degree that may not be necessary for them.

As we see our world and environment change, education should be responding to that. We need to remove barriers like expanding credit equivalencies and apprenticeships to help the education system respond to changes in the world and the workforce. Programs like the ones listed here shouldn’t be novelties. Legislators need to recognize what constituents are asking for and make sure the policies being passed aren’t creating unnecessary barriers to outside-the-box partnerships.

The education system needs to start responding to the job market instead of acting independent of it. As the next session begins, I look forward to keeping in contact with these programs in our area, and working in the legislature to see how we can replicate these ideas across the state so students everywhere have access to the paths they want to choose.