Two roads diverge at graduation, and for some high school graduates, transitioning straight to the workforce instead of matriculating to a university will make all the difference. Though this route has been less traveled in the past, there are opportunities for workforce entrants to make good salaries without having to invest in a four-year degree. Since the introduction of House Bill 5 in 2013, Texas students can get a head start on their career plans through selection of a path in high school, which allows them to begin education in their chosen fields. There are five paths – or endorsements – from which a student must choose by the start of their ninth grade year: STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math), Business and Industry, Public Services, Arts and Humanities, and Multidisciplinary Studies.

With health care/social services combined with manufacturing comprising 30% of jobs in Longview, there are many opportunities available right here in our own community. However, employers often find it challenging to fill open positions due to lack of workers skilled in certain trades. Conversely, there are candidates in the labor pool who are willing to work but unqualified to fill the open roles. This mismatch of supply and demand is referred to nationwide as the Workforce Skills Gap, and it burdens our economy locally, statewide, and at the national level. Chambers of Commerce around the nation are addressing this problem, championing a demand-driven approach to closing the gap. U.S. Chamber of Commerce CEO, Thomas J. Donahue states, “No single entity has a greater stake in the strength of our talent pool than the business community. We have the ideas, the innovations, and the incentive to drive change and create solutions. At this moment of rapid change and massive transition, we must put talent first. That requires us to bridge the gaps that exist between students and workers and the jobs that will provide them opportunity, security, and prosperity.”

Yet, a stigma still exists around Career and Technical Education, that it is a “less-than” career choice. They perceive those jobs to be dirty or fear them to be dangerous which is just not the case any longer. As partners in education, this coalition of business leaders, educators, and community organizations must break the stigma of choosing the road less traveled and help support students by educating them, and their parents, on the various career pathways available right here in East Texas.

Longview High School Principal James Brewer emphasizes, “Educating the parents is the most important thing in the community because we don’t want them to think that getting a college education is not important. But what is the overall objective that you are wanting for your child? It’s to get a good-paying job.”

So, take the road less traveled or take the one forged ahead by many generations of university graduates before. Just realize that there are multiple viable options and all are vitally important to the health of our economy.

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