Economic Growth

The Crisis Impacts a Variety of Farmers (4) | 1980s Farm Crisis

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Four different farm families each come to farming through different means. Each is impacted by the 1980s farm crisis. This segment is part of the documentary The Farm Crisis, which examines the tragic circumstances faced by farmers for most of the 1980s, when thousands were forced into bankruptcy, land values dropped by one-third nationally, and sky-high interest rates turned successes into failures seemingly overnight.

Connie Reimers-Hild: Executive Director & Chief Futurist for the Rural Futures Institute | What If – Innovator Insights

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NOTE: Spanish version is captions only.

With innovation and entrepreneurship, the Rural Futures Institute at the University of Nebraska addresses rural issues and opportunities. It works with education, business, community, non-profit, government and foundation partners. Connie Reimers-Hild has a PhD in human sciences, plus degrees in natural resources and entomology.

Innovation Insights features short video interviews with innovators and creators answering questions about things like influences, passions, and mistakes, and offering advice for the next generation of innovators.

Building a Better Workforce | American Graduate

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There is a lot of talk in workforce development circles about “middle skills” jobs, career opportunities that fall between minimum-wage positions and others that require at least a four-year degree. 

But Ryan Meador has a different phrase for that wide swath of workers in the center of those two occupational poles. He calls them the “meaty middle,” and he works a lot with that population as dean of student development and enrollment management at the Business and Technology Campus of Metropolitan Community College in Kansas City, Missouri. 

That’s the group of high school students — perhaps as many as three quarters of them — that falls between the standouts and potential dropouts. 

“These are the individuals that are best for going into programs where there’s practical application,” Meador said. “We’re going to teach you the skills that you need, and we’re going to get you into good paying jobs. …. They’re the ones who have opportunities, who have the skills and ability to be successful, but don’t have what it takes to drive it on their own.” 

And it’s those students who are prime candidates to take advantage of what the workforce development community describes as “stackable credentials.” That’s where a student earns an industry certification, in say, IT security, and then builds upon that skill up through community college and then a four-year institution. (For more on that, see the video above.) 

Only about a third of the open jobs in Kansas City require a bachelor’s degree or higher, Meador said. 

One of his best real-world examples of succeeding through stacking is a Kansas City Power & Light executive, who now has a master’s degree, but who got in with the company after going through MCC’s program for linemen. KCP&L paid for much of his schooling 

In today’s world, Meador said, healthcare is one of the best industries suited to stacking credentials. 

For every doctor, he said, there are about two nurses that have bachelor’s degrees and there’s about six other support staff that have somewhere between a high school degree and associate’s degree. Others with more limited training include phlebotomists and billing and coding staff. 

Dr. Doug Girod is looking at workforce development from a different vantage point than Meador, but as the former executive vice chancellor of the University of Kansas Medical Center, he certainly shares the viewpoint about the healthcare field. Girod is now chancellor of the University of Kansas. 

The U.S. is short about 50,000 physicians, he said. And there are manpower shortages in just about any healthcare-related field, he said, from physical therapists to lab personnel. 

Girod has also been a leader within KC Rising, a business-led initiative to accelerate economic growth within the region. So, he has thought about education and workforce development from a variety of perspectives. 

“It’s really a matter of creating connectivity,” Girod said. “So, reaching further into high school, if not middle school, and helping students understand pathways and what those pathways look like, creating those pathways, and then making them continuous.”

Schools Tackling the Soft Skills Deficit | American Graduate

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Educators around the region are implementing project- and career-oriented learning to engage kids. But in the Center School District, at least, another key constituency is excited too.

Neal Weitzel is the director of college and career readiness in the district, which is located in Kansas City, Missouri, and he recounted parents’ reaction at a recent orientation for its Center Professional Studies program.

“When I just would ask them afterwards how did it go, they felt like they knew what their student was doing. They felt like there was a purpose behind the courses their student was taking,” Weitzel said.

That felt good, he said, “because the hard part with education right now, is ‘What is my student learning? What are they gaining here?’”

Those are valid concerns because local businesses have similar questions about their potential workforce. And, as the video above notes, industry is telling educators that graduates need better “soft skills,” such as critical thinking and adaptability, that vocationally focused coursework provides.

This type of curriculum, referred to today as “career and technical education,” is a modernized version of what used to be known simply as “vocational education.” The latter term developed a second-class reputation as a track for kids who were not cut out for college, even though voc ed students could pursue solidly middle class professions.

CTE leaders like Weitzel stress that their programs are agnostic when it comes to college versus career.

“What we’re trying to do is make sure that every student receives a skill set, or an opportunity, or a learning experience that will help support whatever they want to achieve when they leave our district,” he said. Whether that means college or a job is a decision left up to the student and their parents.

And that leads to another feature of CTE: stackable credentials.

Take, for instance, someone who wants to become a nurse. Through a program like Center Professional Studies, the student might become qualified to work as a certified nursing assistant right out of high school. From there, while the student is earning money, they can continue their education to become a full-fledged nurse with a four-year degree or beyond.

What it all boils down to, Weitzel said, is providing students with solid early professional skills that will help them be employable no matter what path they take after high school. “That choice,” he said, “will be theirs to determine.”

Bob Stowell: Ord, NE Lawyer and Economic Development Leader | What If – Innovator Insights

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NOTE: Spanish version is captions only.

Bob Stowell has been an economic development leader in the rural town of Ord, NE. He helped start Ord’s innovative leadership program.

Innovation Insights features short video interviews with innovators and creators answering questions about things like influences, passions, and mistakes, and offering advice for the next generation of innovators.

Nancy Williams: President/CEO of No More Empty Pots | What If – Innovator Insights

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Meet Nancy Williams, the president/CEO of No More Empty Pots, an Omaha, Nebraska non-profit that focuses on improving self-sufficiency, food security, and economic resilience. Its programs include culinary workforce training, entrepreneurship, and community gardens.

Innovation Insights features short video interviews with innovators and creators answering questions about things like influences, passions, and mistakes, and offering advice for the next generation of innovators.

The Time Value of Money

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Understanding saving, investments and retirement can sometimes be a challenge to young people when their immediate needs and wants easily outweigh long-term financial planning. Riza Laudin, an economics teacher at Herricks High School in Long Island, New York, helps students make personal connections to the benefits of saving early through a lesson on the time value of money. In this lesson, Ana begins saving at age 22 for twelve years, while Shawn saves from ages 34 to 65. Students are challenged to predict who was the better saver. Understanding and applying the principles of compound interest, students learn a new strategy for saving and begin to contemplate their own financial futures.

How the Deck Is Stacked: Why the Middle Class Matters

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Learn how the percentage of Americans who belong to the middle class is shrinking and why this matters to the U.S. economy, in this video from FRONTLINE’s “How the Deck Is Stacked,” produced in collaboration with Marketplace and PBS NewsHour. Marketplace host Kai Ryssdal presents statistics that support the idea that far fewer people today than in 1971 are defined as middle class; this not only impacts whether and how individuals spend their money but also overall economic growth in the country. This resource is part of the FRONTLINE Collection.

What is the DOW? | Two Cents

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Do your eyes glaze over when you ever hear about the DOW? Are you still confused about what the DOW is?

How Much is Too Much? | American Graduate

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“Our students are not widgets!” 

Certainly that is the sentiment of educators who see business involvement in schools as “putting in orders” for workers. Yet that refrain might be less common in an era when the whole notion of career and technical education is evolving way beyond shop class. 

Maybe that’s because each side understands its boundaries. Businesspeople and educators both say the same thing: Industry lays out the workforce needs; schools develop the curriculum. 

The video above, the final one in our opening series for American Graduate: Getting to Work, includes voices from a major regional employer as well as from K-12 and higher education.

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