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Midstate educators: There’s a sea change in modern education that will support changing workforce needs

Panelists from left to right: Dr. John “Ski” Sygielski, Dr. Tamara Willis, Michael Charles, Dr. Linda Fedrizzi-Williams

 

There is a sea change going on in education right now, according to the education professionals at Central Penn Business Journal’s Workforce Preparedness and Education Webinar.

COVID-19 has brought online learning out from the sidelines to a central role in modern education, and the four-year degree is no longer the standard option after high school, as specialized diplomas and training in trades are gaining in acceptability.

“Education is not one size fits all,” said Dr. Linda Fedrizzi-Williams, president of Central Penn College in Summerdale, one of four panelists who took part in the webinar, which included Michael Charles, interim principal & high school curriculum lead at Lancaster Mennonite School; Dr. John J. Sygielski, president and CEO of HACC, Central Pennsylvania’s Community College; and Dr. Tamara Willis, superintendent of the Susquehanna Township School District.

What was the de rigueur path for students of past decades might not work for the students of today, the panelists said, remarking that some young adults benefit from taking time to work before attending college.

“You don’t have to go right away,” said Willis, “but circle back to it if you can.”

The stigma surrounding training in the trades is disappearing as well, according to the panelists. Lancaster Mennonite’s Charles said that there has been a “huge pivot” in the options high school students see for themselves after graduation. “Now there is a huge portfolio of options that exist,” he said. “Trades are seen as viable jobs, highly advanced, highly technical jobs.”

Willis echoed his statements. “More and more parents are looking at our technical schools,” she said. “I think it’s starting to shift. It has shifted already.”

Parents and students are realizing that trade jobs that require technical training are often high-paying careers in stable industries and bring lifetime employment, the panelists said.

“Over time they see that it is a noble career,” said Sygielski.

While the changing educational landscape means that not every high school senior will go on to obtain a four-year degree, some education beyond high school is still important for young people seeking a paycheck that will support a family, the panelists said. However, with worries over student loan debt and an unstable economy making advanced schooling an uncertain option for some, colleges are thinking outside the box for what they can do to help prospective students.

“We thought ‘What can we do for our students? What can we leverage?,’” Fedrizzi-Williams said, explaining that in addition to freezing tuition rates for the past three years, Central Penn College is offering students housing on campus for free.

As the goals of young adults change, the way they are being educated is changing faster than anyone could have imagined, and shifting to more online learning during the pandemic has been a hurdle for educators, they said.

“It’s created a lot of challenges in how we give instruction,” Fedrizzi-William said, remarking that many teachers are also being tasked with homeschooling their children right now, creating added stress.

“Teachers get burnout,” Charles said. Teachers and students had to go from “0 to 60 in ways we never expected,” and students have been forced to navigate the world in ways never expected. But, he said, “we are doing a much better job than we were eight months ago.”

Even internships have gone virtual, the panelists said.

At Susquehanna Township School District, students interning in the banking industry are attending virtual meetings weekly with the district’s banking industry partners. Internships begin in ninth grade with students doing some job shadowing, Willis said. She recommends that students do multiple internships before graduation, with the ultimate goal of landing a job.

In addition to the changing educational and workforce landscape, the top job skills valued by employers today were also discussed by the panelists, with soft skills like verbal communication and a willingness to learn being at the forefront.

“Number one is attitude,” said HACC’s Sygielski. “If they are willing to learn, we will hire them.”

Central Penn College’s Fedrizzi-Williams added that job candidates should be able to “critically think, not coming to you for answers but bringing you solutions.”

To view the webinar in its entirety, click here.

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