03/16/2009 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Career Education a Must in Today's Job Market

Here's a sobering scenario: Each year, about 7,000 seniors earn a diploma from Chicago Public Schools, but don't enroll in college and have no preparation for work. That is a road to disaster, given the state of the U.S. economy these days.

Today's tough job market--with unemployment claims at a two-decade high and daily headlines announcing fresh rounds of layoffs--is no place for a teenager or young adult with no direction, few skills and no work experience. Meanwhile, a recent report on jobs in Illinois points out that thousands of jobs go begging each year, enough to put every one of those 7,000 graduates to work--if they had the right training. These jobs include nursing, fire-fighting and transportation, none of which requires a four-year degree.

All too often, however, career and technical education in CPS is second-class. The district is successfully pushing more students into four-year colleges and universities but has ground to make up when it comes to career prep. Many students who begin career programs never finish. Those who do typically finish without any work experience or industry-recognized credential that could help them land work.

In our latest issue, Catalyst examines the state of career education in CPS and what the district is trying to do to improve it. Two of the new Renaissance 2010 schools show promise in preparing students for high-tech manufacturing and construction trades. Four more career-prep schools are slated to open this year and next. The mayor's office is getting into the game, bringing together stakeholders to revamp workforce training, including programs in schools.