Guest Viewpoint

Helping High School Students Earn Higher Pay with Industry Certificates

For a while now people have been talking about industry certificates. Employers and colleges have been using these short programs to help new workers build skills, and the existing workforce continues to add to their skill set. One of my main goals in the classroom is to give my students opportunities like these so they are better prepared for the workplace and can assure themselves of better starting positions and compensation. I teach mechatronics and robotics at McGavock High School, here in Nashville, TN. I start with industry certifications in the 10th grade, and they continue until graduation. Our students show greater engagement building career-ready skills, and even receiving job offers before graduation. The successes are big and small and have been worth the effort it took to get here.

Our school gives students an opportunity to jump-start their careers in one of our Academy pathways. Our Academies give students the chance to engage in a practical hands-on approach to learning in fields that interest them.

In my class, we cover everything from basic economics — like creating a household budget and using it to determine your ideal salary — to advanced robotics and automation. We do a lot of hands-on work. It's a mix of assignments that start with simple equipment like basic tools working up to professional Industry 4.0 equipment. We work with technology training solution partners such as Intelitek, which supplies us with manufacturing equipment and curriculum. These experiences provide students the opportunity to learn about concepts and then practice them in real-world situations.

Adding industry certification was a logical addition that deepened the educational experience for my students. It gives purpose to the learning. My 10th- and 11th-grade students start early by earning an OSHA-10 Safety Certification and a certification for multimeter operation. They can also earn certification in PMI (Precision Measurement Instruments), which is so critical in high-tech industries today. It should also be noted that the OSHA-10 certification not only keeps students safe as they work in class but also paves the way for more opportunities for job shadowing and internships.

I've had students who landed jobs in hospital food service, and because they had a certificate, they received $2 more per hour. Another student was offered a job in a manufacturing plant before she graduated high school. Also, because of her certifications and the fact she was multi-lingual, she was recruited to help train others.

Students in the higher grades can also focus on technical certifications – 12th-grade students use an industrial robotics curriculum and are able to get a Robotics Programmer Operator certification. These are extremely valuable in the industry and help them with employment opportunities. We are working to add Machine Vision and PLC certifications as well.

It feels great to know that I'm empowering my students with skills for the future, but I'm also making their lives better right now. Any teacher who is thinking about ways to tie their curriculum closer to preparing students for success should consider adding certification preparation to their class. To make sure an industry certification element is successful at the high school level, here are a few recommendations to follow:

  • Talk to your community. The most effective certifications are those that will help students get a job. Get a sense of what your community needs by talking to local business leaders and elected officials as well as paying attention to local business trends. When you know your area, you're more likely to teach students skills that are in demand.

  • Get to know industry standards. Every industry has particular skills they are looking for in new hires. Understand what those are for the leading industries in your area. The Bureau of Labor and Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook can be a good starting point. Professional associations and local employers can be helpful resources too.

  • Keep students engaged. Certificates are often based on applied knowledge, so students need to practice new skills and put theories into action. It takes space not only for equipment to engage in hands-on learning, but space to ensure students can stay busy the whole time. Few schools, if any, have the resources to give every student access to a machine simultaneously. Instead, I plan my class period so students move through rotating and repeating stations. Students have opportunities to work on machines, design digital circuits and study theories and concepts – then repeat those stations within a class period to make sure they remember what they learned, not just next week, but also next year.

For someone new to the idea, it might be surprising to see high school students operating professional-grade equipment and preparing for professional certification, but this kind of change is good for education. Students should have ways to succeed without college, such as in Industry 4.0 manufacturing. Having certificates in high school does that and it's why we need more of these kinds of chances.

About the Author

Anthony Young serves as a CTE Mechatronics/Robotics teacher at McGavock High School, Metro Nashville (TN) Public Schools. Email: [email protected]