In Siskiyou County, an expansive team of local education, industry, and business representatives are examining methods to bridge the gap between students and the skills desired by employers throughout the county. An opportunity to be part of a continuing conversation about this gap will take place at the second annual Siskiyou CTE Success Business and Industry Night, on Nov. 1 from 5 to 7:30 p.m. at Mount Shasta High School.

Career and technical education is a term applied to schools, institutions, and educational programs that specialize in the skilled trades, applied sciences, modern technologies, and career preparation. It was formerly (and is still commonly) called vocational education; however, the term has fallen out of favor with most educators (edglossary.org/career-and-technical-education).

This second annual Siskiyou CTE Success event is open to the public, employers in business, industry, government, and nonprofit sectors of the county are encouraged to attend. Furthermore, the evening lineup includes participation in and discussion about a countywide employer needs survey regarding work-based learning.

A dinner will be catered by students enrolled in Etna High School and Dunsmuir High School Culinary Arts Programs, and will include a tour of the Mount Shasta High School Manufacturing Business Facility. The event is being hosted by Mount Shasta High School (Siskiyou Union High School District) and Scott Valley Unified School District.

Siskiyou CTE Success Business and Industry Night provides data and information to be used in a larger context by a team of collaborators whose project is entitled “Siskiyou Occupational Advancement Roadmap.” The combination of volunteer members who have been involved with the project’s development include Siskiyou Economic Development, business and industry, College of the Siskiyous and county high school representatives.

The overarching goal of SOAR is to bridge the gap between education and employers by providing students and adults with countywide work-based learning opportunities to prepare them for 21st century college and career readiness.

The addition of a solid sum of grant money from the Ford Family Foundation provides SOAR with momentum to obtain feedback and statistical data about what types of soft skills employers expect need current and future employees to know and be able to do in the workplace; as well as to provide support for educators and employers to implement and sustain work-based learning opportunities. Work-based learning includes paid and unpaid internships, job shadows, apprenticeships, work experience and guest speakers.

According to Business and Technology instructor at MSHS, Dr. Bright Nichols-Stock, more county employers would like to hire students from the county for open positions; however, employers are finding either a lack of qualified candidates or a lack of incentive to bring locals back to the area for jobs.

Nichols-Stock imparted that one of the cornerstones of the SOAR project is to implement sustainable learning strategies in county education systems that prepare county graduates for success in future careers, while illustrating to students what types of jobs are available locally.

“I am really hopeful that [SOAR is] going to provide opportunities to our students K-14 with work-based learning opportunities that will encourage them to stay here, or to come back (to Siskiyou County) and be employable. They can find sustainable employment and become part of our infrastructure and development. Right now, there is a huge gap. Students don’t see the opportunities that really do exist in this county,” Nichols-Stock said.

Nichols-Stock explained that the origins of SOAR stemmed from her doctoral thesis, encompassing a qualitative study that she conducted around 2015, where she interviewed teachers from the Siskiyou Union High School District to determine how they were integrating project-based learning into their teaching. Nichols-Stock continued to assess how these educators were preparing students for college and career readiness, especially in relation to the needs of a rural county. Nichols-Stock, who graduated from Drexel University with her Doctorate in December 2016, explained the outcomes of her findings.

“The outcomes of that study were very evident and one primary focus was that [the County has] a tremendous gap between education and business and industry, and that is how this whole process began. In the fall of 2015, I partnered with some people as a small group, but we’ve evolved into a full fledge representation of many different facets of economic infrastructure along with the workforce infrastructure in the county. We are able to build on [these representations] thanks to Ford Family money through a grant application process that we have completed,” Nichols-Stock said.

Nichols-Stock added that SOAR is still in a conceptual phrase, so to speak. Members of the project have a vision to represent the entire county, and Nichols-Stock believes the group’s goals will provide valuable information relating to not only education, but also the growth of business, industry, small businesses, and new businesses.

Overall, Nichols-Stock and other members of the project look forward to engaging in productive conversations about short and long term changes that will be of tremendous benefit to educational and economic aspects of the entire county.

Based on last year’s Siskiyou CTE Success Business and Industry Night, the results of a survey taken by attendees showed that the career-readiness skills most desired by countywide employers and educators include work ethic, attitude, communication, and the ability to problem solve. She looks forward to the Siskiyou CTE Success event, and she hopes it will be as successful as last year.

For more information about the event, contact Nichols-Stock at bnichols-stock@sisuhsd.net or register for the event at www.mountshastahighschool.com