Nebraska Summit on Career Readiness

a project of the Nebraska Department of Education in partnership with the Department of Labor, Future Force Nebraska, and Partnerships for Innovation


Scott Swisher, Deputy Commissioner
Good morning and welcome. We have a very large task ahead of us - we have to define Career Education. Thirty years ago when I was at university, I would have gone to the library and looked up Career Education in the card catalog and used the Dewey Decimal System. Today, I would look it up on Goggle.

Michael Robinson asked some great questions. How would you feel if your job flew offshore without any warning? What if you had spent the last few years training for a hot job that's no longer a good choice?

A lot of hot jobs have been replaced by technology. Typesetters were put out of work by the personal computer. The typists have been put out of work because most of us do our own typing. IBM punch cards used to employ thousands of people. But that is obsolete now. How do we train our students for the current and future world?

The state board has adopted core academic standards. We need to get away from courses and Carnegie Units. We are going to achieve high standards and focus less on seat time. Technology is driving this. Students who are excited and motivated can complete a semester-long course in two weeks - it has been done. We have to get away from the type-setting model of school that we're in, and move into a new world. Our challenge here is to define Career Education in such a way to accomplish this transformation in education.

Rich Katt, Department of Education
We have a very interesting challenge for the next several days. How do students prepare for college? How do they leave college and enter the workforce? This summit is being funded in part with some Perkins funds, but it is being put on in collaboration with some great partners. The Department of Labor has been a phenomenal partner over the years, and I am happy to introduce Catherine Lang.

Catherine Lang, Department of Labor
It is a pleasure to be here. I would like to talk a little bit about the work that we do at the Department of Labor. Joan is the lynchpin person at our agency for all workforce training. I want to acknowledge her and all her fine work.

We talk a lot about career readiness. We have a job posting side of our agency, and we have the unemployment benefits side of our agency. Nebraska has about a 5% unemployment rate. This is strong compared to the national average, but this is twice our normal unemployment rate. This is never easy for someone who is unemployed. They struggle with what to do next.

How do we keep our entire workforce career-ready? A lot of people have worked at a job for 20 years, only to have their jobs suddenly disappear. These people jump right back into the world of education -- the community colleges and universities to learn new skills and get back to work.

A lot of the relationships that the Department of Labor has are with businesses. We provide a number of services to support the workforce needs of businesses at no cost to the businesses.

We offer classic employment services in our department - self-assessments, resume-building, etc. We also have the Workforce Investment Act Program, targeted at the most challenged workers - the dislocated workers, the adult workers with lower education or a criminal record, and the young people just starting into the workforce.

THe Worker Training Board is funded by part of the interest income of the Unemployment Fund trust fund. We can provide matching funds to train incumbent workers for businesses in the state. This is a very easy grant program. We have four grants in process in the Green Energy sector. We are organizing a number of state agencies to support business's vision for the future of Green Energy in the state.

We are partnering with the Departments of Education, Economic Development and Revenue to drive economic growth in our state.

Rich Katt, Department of Education
We are very excited to be part of the collaboration with the Department of Labor.

College and Career Readiness is a growing buzz-word out there. We need to define both the college-readiness for our students (which seems manageable) and the career-readiness for our students. No one really knows what we mean yet by career readiness. That is the conversation we're going to start today.

The conversation has shifted to making students "college and career ready" - this is going to drive the decision-making at the federal level. Many senior leaders of the Department of Education are tied up in high-level meetings at the state level this week, but they are very eager to see the results of this session.

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Michael Kaufman
It looks as though about half of you have been involved in a session with us before. I'm going to remind you about the process we use.

What’s this? (holds up a brain) It is a brain! It's a model. A model is a representation of something else.

What else is a model? A tool. A pattern. A conceptualization.

Why do we as human beings make and use models? It helps us see and touch our ideas. We as humans have a limited perception of the world around us. Models help us manage the vast amount of information that surrounds us every day. Models help us manage and understand the world we live in.

We can do things to models that we cannot do to the things they represent.

What can we learn about the model-maker? Their attention to detail. The model-maker's ability to make connections. Their choice of materials. We can tell what is important to them. The model must contain less information than the thing it represents (or else it would be the thing it represents). The model maker must choose what information to include and what to exclude. This might not be a conscious choice but they are still choosing.

What are examples of models that we use every day? A map. A lesson design or plan. A flow chart. Strategic plans. A to-do list. A watch - time is a model. Making ideas tangible and kinesthetic. Formulas. Simulations. Anything on a screen is a model. Games are models. Art. Computers. Credit cards are models. Money is a model.

Are words models? Yes! If words are models, what is actually happening when two people talk to each other? Possibly model-making. Interpretation is taking place. As I speak, all eighty of you are developing different pictures of what I mean. When people are talking, they are sharing models and assessing them. The two models are coming together and the models may be changing dynamically. There may be a lot of nodding going on in a conversation, but we have no way of knowing whether the other person understands us.

When two people are talking, there is model conflict. This is not a negative thing - the models are just bumping into each other. How can we resolve this conflict? Force - one model dominates the other. We can share information about our models, but how does that resolve conflict? We can each keep our own models - agree to disagree. We can compromise - take pieces of each model to build a second one. It's possible that an entirely new third model will emerge. We can capitulate - I might give up my own model. Models might actually complement each other quite well. Third-party mediation might help resolve conflict.

What is the trap in models and model-making? We as humans need models for lots of different reasons. One of the traps of model-making is that we never know what the other person's model is. In the Western world, we do not deal very well with the pace of change in the world - we can have a perfect model, and if the world changes, the model is no longer relevant. Most of us were taught that models were true and would stay stable forever. One of the traps of model-making is model-fixation - believing that our model is the right model and keeping with it. When a model works, we tend to believe that the model is true. Our brain literally stops learning and adapting and accepting certain pieces of information.

Another trap we fall into is mistaking the model for the thing it represents. If I say "chocolate", there will be 80 models of chocolate out there. This is especially important with words.

How do you know if a model is a good model? It must allow you to do something and get feedback. How do human beings learn? Trial and error. Yet in our culture we do not tolerate making mistakes. Unconsciously, we have developed a cultural modality that says that learning is not important. It is a very insightful paradox that we will not resolve right now.

So what? Why are we talking about models and model-making? We are here to build a model (a definition) because we don't have a common model (definition) yet. In order to build a new model, we need to share our models. Humans are not in conflict - models are. For today, at least, model conflict is really cool! We need our models to have lots of conflict so that some interesting new models might pop out. In some cases people might have walked into the room this morning believing that we have the right answer (model) already.

There is no such thing as a perfect model. Some models are useful. We are here to build a useful model together.

This is not a meeting. This is a design process. We have created a series of intensive, immersive activities for you to experience in small groups. In each activity, you will create something together -- maybe it's a list on a marker board, or maybe it's something more elaborate. Then you will share your model with others. Not everyone will be involved in every conversation. We will give you big challenges, and you will probably not have enough time to solve them. But we are working in a very iterative fashion -- we will revisit challenges again and again, and the complete solutions will shape up over several iterations of work.

We do not build formal breaks into our agenda. In the creative process, you need to manage your energy. And since every individual will be going through his or her own process, you will need to take your breaks when you need to. Just be conscious of how your energy and your breaks will effect those working around you. So take a break when you need to. Please keep your interruptions to a minimum - turn your phones off or set them to stun. There will always be food and beverages in the back of the room.

You will have an opportunity to work with most of the other people in the room in small groups. We will not take the time for formal introductions to start the day.

We are here to create a definition of career readiness. Our job as facilitators is to figure out what questions to ask. One of the first questions we had was whether college-ready and career-ready were the same thing. When you walked in the door, a large majority of you said that these were not the same.

What stood out for you among the questions and responses that you saw in the first Walkabout activity? Most of these questions have to do with our preconceived notion of what college or career or education really means. What surprised you? It's really not easy to question our own beliefs.

I was surprised that most people voted NO on whether career-ready and college-ready were the same thing. In my mind, college is just a step in a career path. Others were surprised that so many people agreed that career and liberal arts preparation were different. College-ready tends to be more focused on "book smarts". Someone who is career ready is disciplined enough to get up early to get to work on time. Is "college ready" a mind-set or an attitude? Does it depend on the perceptions of the person you're talking to? (An 18-year-old's perceptions of college are quite different than a 40-year-old.) Career readiness is about strategic thinking, problem-solving and working in teams - and college-ready people have many of those skills too. Your definitions of both college and career readiness will depend on who you are, how old you are, what organization you're with, what college you're talking about, and what career you're talking about.

In the first activity, you're going to get the opportunity to explore a little bit about the future through a set of Concept Cards that InnovationLabs developed through its research for a wide range of clients. We are going to ask you to put yourselves in 2015 and play with a number of different scenarios of the future.

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