Local business owner Thom Baker seeks to leave Columbia a gift when he retires. Tucked away in his equipment-lain home office, Thom Baker of...
1. What is your background? Why are you passionate about your job? As a high school student, I took as many career center classes as possible. I also participated in the career and technical student organization, VICA, which is now known as SkillsUSA. The competition and professional skill development were invaluable to future successes. I went on to attend Northeast Missouri State University, now Truman State University, where I majored in industrial technology and further developed the skills that were cultivated in my career center classes. In college I became involved in ROTC, and I went on to serve as an army officer for four years and pursue a master’s degree in counseling from Western Kentucky University. Upon leaving the military, I worked for Walmart Stores Inc. in logistics. My corporate and military experience combined with a strong entrepreneurial vision led me to begin a custom millwork business. My career path had given me great experience, yet I still felt something was missing. Both my mother and father were public school educators, and I was determined not to be one of them. However, I was feeling the call to teach. Eventually I made the move and began teaching industrial technology.
My passion comes from that calling to teach and the value career and technical Education has added to my life. I came to public education after experiencing a variety of things, and when I made that decision, I was all in.
2. Do you have a variety of programs for all ages? We serve about 5,600 students each year. Approximately 400 are 10- to 15-year-olds each summer with our youth camp. We offer a plethora of courses and programs to approximately 2,200 high school students at three campus locations in digital media, graphic design, desktop publishing, digital filmmaking, Web design, broadcast journalism, computer science, programming, information technology, marketing, entrepreneurship, certified welding, construction and contracting, computer-aided design, 3-D modeling and animation, civil engineering and architecture, geospatial technology and Analysis, engineering, digital electronics, robotics, computer-integrated manufacturing, laser and photonics technology, automotive technology, professions and health care, laboratory exploration and foundations, EMT, biomedical sciences, human body systems, medical interventions, biomedical innovations, core essentials for firefighting and public safety, teaching professions, culinary arts, agricultural science, animal science, horticulture, landscaping turf management, wildlife conservation and forestry, urban conservation issues and agricultural mechanics. High school students have access to these classes after high schools and/or in combination with Columbia Area Career Center. Each year we work to expand offerings at both Battle and Hickman high schools so students can have the most accessible career and technical education opportunities possible. When a program or class cannot be offered, those schools’ students still have the opportunity to travel to Columbia Area Career Center for that program. Our adult offerings, taken by approximately 3,000 adult students annually, are as follows: surgical technology, practical nursing, phlebotomy, medical coding, UAP, massage therapy, CNA. The Adult Learning Center offers students instruction in preparation for the HISET diploma equivalency exam and Adult English Learner instruction. Our workforce development and corporate training group develops and provides customized training for corporate partners and works closely with workforce development addressing regional training needs. Our community education group provides more than 400 enrichment class offerings annually. The range of those offerings is wide, from beekeeping to accounting to flower arranging and many points in between.
3. How do the goals of these programs differ? The major goal of our camps is to develop interest and vision to assist young students in connecting with future career opportunities. For our high school students, the goal is to begin refining an interest, giving it focus, developing a technical skillset that is valued in a given field and preparing them for their next step.
Professional and community education has three major goals for students: gaining essential basic skills such as learning English or obtaining a high school equivalency diploma, obtaining an industry credential that opens a new career opportunity or taking a shorter-term course that brings new enrichment and quality of life to them.
Although each of these areas is different, I believe there’s a common thread in all of them that students, no matter what age, are seeking to add value to their lives by learning and developing new and marketable skills.
4. How do you determine course topic offerings? For secondary and some of our adult programs, state and federal funding is a strong consideration in program development and sustainability. Missouri Economic Research and Information Center data is used to determine high-demand occupations at state and regional levels, which in turn drives state and federal funding. We also work closely with district administration to ensure local financial support is in alignment with our district improvement plan and goals. Additionally, each program has an advisory committee of business and industry leaders who help us identify emerging trends and identify key areas needing to be taught to maintain an industry standard. Surveying students about their interest is also a very useful tool in determining new programming. We will be conducting our next student and community survey to identify areas of additional and or new programming in the fall of 2015
5. How do you recruit students at each age level? Let me count the ways. Two years ago we toured nearly 5,000 elementary, middle and high school students through our center on South Providence. After living through that experience and adjusting to the reality of having career centers on the Battle High School and Hickman High School campus, we tried a different approach this past year. We partnered with each of the high schools to have an event on their site for incoming eighth-graders. It was a hybrid of tour, career fair and pre-enrollment information. We were generally pleased with the process and are planning to do similar events with some modifications this year. Our most powerful recruitment tool is to have high-quality programs that students and parents tell others about.
6. What are some of the most important and in-demand trade skills you’re looking at incorporating in the near future? We have had a set of professional conduct standards called career center expectations for many years based on positive attitude, reliability, professionalism, initiative and responsibility, respect and integrity and gratitude. We’ll be reviewing our efforts to emphasize and reinforce these behaviors and attributes that are highly desirable in any business or industry. In our many conversations with business and industry leaders, we hear them say technical skills are important, but if you could just emphasize and have your students understand the importance of positive attitude, reliability, professionalism, initiative and responsibility, respect, integrity and gratitude, we can get them up to speed on the technical side.
7. How do you plan to prepare for trends that are emerging but are further off, such as 3-D printing techs? We did a good job with 3-D printing; our CAD program has had a high-end 3-D printer for about six years at the career center. We began PLTW Engineering four years ago and have greatly increased our 3-D capability and access. Thanks to CPS technical visionary Craig Adams, we have approximately 40 printers in elementary, middle and high schools across the district. With business and industry, you always have to be talking about what’s on the horizon.
8. We hear your program and its students have won some awards. Tell us about some of the accomplishments you’re most proud of. We consistently have students compete in their CTSOs (Career and Technical Student Organizations) at district, state, national and international levels. By the end of this contest season, we will have had more than 145 students compete at the state, national and international levels and taking honors at each level.
We have the most robust dual credit offering of any career center in Missouri. Last year approximately 300 of our students earned nearly 1,000 college credits in technical areas of study.
Professional and community education recently received CEO accreditation, which will ensure our ability to offer federal financial aid for long-term adult programs.
Partnerships both long-term and new are critical for our organization and are sources of great pride. Our long-term partnership with University of Missouri Operations is more than 30 years old but continues to be a great benefit to our students and is evolving to add even more value in the area of scholarships. A new partnership we’re very proud of is one with Douglass High School and assisting them in developing their culinary program.
9. There is a well-known shortage of talented workers to fill shovel-ready jobs. How bad is the problem, what jobs are in highest demand, how do we recruit people to these jobs, and what is the career center doing to address this? The skilled labor shortage is real and serious. I have been in numerous conversation with business and industry representatives and economic developers in the past few years, and most have turned to the subject of skilled labor shortage. They all express the need for pipelines of skilled workers.
We continue to develop our programs to industry standards and provide opportunity for students to earn IRCs (Industry Recognized Credentials) that fall into some of these high-demand fields. Additionally, we continue to partner with business and industry internships and bring real work from their business and industry into our classrooms to engage students. We’re continuing to develop externships for teachers to be able to go into business and industry, for short durations of time, to gain valuable experience about the world of work that can make their instruction more engaging and compelling for students.