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Still Employable, Even Without a High School Diploma

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Workforce Skills

Sean Keefer was once deputy chief of staff for the governor of Indiana. Because of close ties with state agencies related to workforce, labor, and economic development, he had unique insight in to what Indiana's employers were looking for in job applicants.

"Employers are expecting skills beyond those that the education system provides students and future workers in high school and college," Sean says.

"Parts of the education process need to teach workforce skill sets that are not currently in the system," he says.

"It's causing problems," Sean says, now a regional director with Pearson. "Public policy experts and governors and associations are saying we need to fill the skills gap so the U.S. is competitive globally."

A Better Way

"State governments have tried to train the workforce in better ways," Sean says.

"But, so far, few solutions have been effective or sustainable."

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The Direct-to-Work Initiative

Sean and his colleagues are collaborating on a new project with training company 180 Skills to identify students or graduates who can be trained well, trained quickly, placed in to jobs with skills that businesses need—then measure how the whole thing is working.

It's called a direct-to-work initiative and a pilot program is already underway in Indiana.

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Sophisticated  Software

"If you don't have a high school diploma or equivalent," Sean says, "we'll help with your GED."

"We're proving that employees who don't have that diploma can still have rewarding careers and thrive in the modern economy."

Several hundred students are participating in the pilot. Many of their training classes will focus on manufacturing or computer science.

"There is some very sophisticated software involved," Sean says. One class about welding uses that software to study complicated pieces of technical equipment.

"It's like a flight simulator," he says. "In the software, you can pull out every piece, every nut, every bolt, and study the innards of that piece of equipment."

High Expectations

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Among the students in the pilot who already have a high school degree, Sean says the project expects 90-percent of them will graduate from the course and that 90-percent of them will get jobs.

Those numbers drop—slightly—to 75-percent when Sean's team sets expectations for students who are not high school graduates.

"This kind of approach is proven out," Sean says. "When some students have the option for alternative, vocational areas of study, they will stay in school—and graduate at a higher level."