In June, approximately 401,000 students, representing 42 percent of Massachusetts high school graduates, will forego the traditional four-year college track and decide to go to workforce preparation programs at two-year colleges or go directly to work. These work-bound graduates will undoubtedly face many challenges trying to pursue careers given continuing economic concerns and the ultra-competitive, highly educated workforce in our state. However, next year’s graduates could face an even tougher road. That’s because drastic cuts are planned for the state’s School to Career Connecting Activity budget — slashing it from 2012’s $2.75 million level to $750,000 for 2013.
School to Career Connecting programs are a collaborative effort between public and private entities and educators that provide high school students with paid internship opportunities in a wide variety of Massachusetts occupations and industries. Through this invaluable experience, students gain exposure to real-world work environments, learn professionalism, have the opportunity to take responsibility, and are empowered to build job readiness and leadership skills that can help them break into careers following high school.
At the heart of this effort — as well as many other adult work-assistance programs — are 16 local workforce investment boards in Massachusetts, including The North Shore Work Investment Board (NSWIB), which serves 19 communities like Gloucester, Salem, Lynn, Peabody and Saugus. In 2012, Massachusetts School to Career programs placed 9,800 students in internships at 3,500 employer sites, with NSWIB alone getting 489 teens working at nearly 200 companies. While impressive, this is a reduction from 2007 levels, where funding was higher and where as a result 17,500 found work at at 6,500 employer sites.
With the proposed cuts of more than 70 percent in state funding for School to Career programs for 2013, we are headed in the wrong direction. If our School to Career programs have to operate with even lower budgets they will be prevented from identifying and brokering an effective level of connections between schools, students and employers. The bottom line result will be a drastic reduction in high school students getting real work experience and a missed opportunity for local companies to tap into part of their next generation of potential employees.