High school outreach counselors help prepare students

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When I went to high school in the late 1970s, it seemed like they expected almost everyone to go on to college. “College Prep” was the buzzword used by my guidance counselor, who also was the head football coach, in our 10-minute meeting to discuss my future.

Things are changing, I’m pleased to tell you.

At least that’s the case in some schools that are creating community outreach-type positions. The main job of these people: Keep in close contact with local employers — including plastics companies — and find out what skills they need.

At Brown Deer High School, north of Milwaukee, they set up a new position and named Future Cain as community outreach specialist. It’s a half-time position, so for half of each day, Cain, a teacher whose specialty is special education, helps out in those classes as well.

But the other half of day she’s on the phone, and on the road, meeting with local businesses. Cain has a special link to plastics manufacturing — she’s the wife of Patrick Cain, plant manager of Milwaukee custom thermoformer General Plastics Inc.

Cain knows of some other school districts that have made the outreach job a full-time position.

“In my opinion it will be an invaluable investment in the kids, and in our future and in the community,” she said.

Her name, Future, perfectly fits the issues facing manufacturing. The future is clouded by an ever-aging workforce thinking about retirement, and the huge challenge of finding young people to replace the baby boomers. Community outreach specialists are common at community colleges and technical schools. But it’s clear that every high school should have one.

And it’s not because high school guidance counselors today are doing a bad job (even the ones who coach football).

Cain said Brown Deer High School has three guidance counselors for nearly 800 students.

“So any person, in any field if you have 350 people you have to service, it’s very difficult to meet every need, every time,” she said.

Over in northwestern Ohio, Laurie Good at Clyde High School said the same thing.

“We have wonderful guidance counselors here, but they are swamped,” she said.

Good is the college and career readiness coordinator. She had 11 years of experience teaching in career technical education in another school district before returning back to her hometown of Clyde to take the newly created position.

Good teaches five classes a day where students learn about skills that make them employable, like job skills, resume writing, networking, job shadowing … even how to write a thank you note after an interview.

“Just some really practical skills that as adults we need and unfortunately many of us were not taught that in school,” she said.

So that’s about two-thirds teaching, then one-third for outreach.

Companies need young people with “hard skills” like technical know-how, but just as important, “soft skills” like working with a team and communication.

Then there are the Life 101 skills. Get to work on time. Work hard. As a baby boomer myself, when I was 16, nobody had to “teach” me these “skills.” Nobody had to tell me to go wash dishes. The newly opened York Steak House at the mall was the hardest job I would ever have, and I knew it even then.

Good teaches it all. She was planning some sessions on debt — a big issue for the college bound. And she said that employers strongly support the high school.

“Every single company we’ve gone to has open arms and is willing to help us out in any way that they can,” Good said.

She makes a key point about young people: They need to make a good decision within the first couple of years out of high school.

“If you don’t have a good understanding of what you want to do, that’s when you have problems,” Good said.

Bregar is a Plastics News senior reporter. Follow him on Twitter at @MachineryBeat25.