By Mary Cashiola – Managing Editor, Memphis Business Journal
In an effort to shepherd students — earlier — toward careers in which they may excel, Shelby County Schools participated in a program this past school year to assess the aptitudes of 1,800 middle schoolers.
And what they found is that students are self-selecting away from lucrative careers — even when they show a natural talent for the work.
Shelby County Schools worked with Nashville-based tech firm YouScience to match students to more than 500 careers. To do so, students took a roughly 45-minute online test comprised of five aptitude assessments and one interest inventory. YouScience then provided them with affirmative language about their abilities and matched them with jobs from 16 nationally recognized career clusters.
“A student will go through and play [what we call] brain games. And, from those brain games, we can ascertain their abilities in different dimensions outside of what we’ll say normal tests are measuring,” said YouScience senior vice president Armando Garza. “Normal ACT/SAT-type tests use math and English. If you’re very good in one of those two dimensions, you score well.”
But, YouScience’s assessment looked at skills such as spatial recognition and sequential reasoning, which, Garza said, aren’t “necessarily learned behaviors; they’re more innate.”
The district hopes the personal assessment can help close the local workforce development gap by putting area students into pipelines that need workers.
“Most of the time, students just look at careers based on what they’re interested in,” said Monica Smith, SCS’ college, career, and technical education (CCTE) middle grades manager. “When I look at the results from the surveys from some of our schools, we have students who have the aptitude to be a part of different career clusters like health
science, agriculture, and advanced manufacturing. But, we don’t have many students who are moving into those career clusters.
“We have so many high-wage, high-demand jobs that are opening in those areas and not enough students to fill those positions,” Smith continued.
The school district’s hope is that the students will be more open to those opportunities once they know they have a natural aptitude for them. After receiving the results, school counselors met with the students individually to create a four-year plan for high school, with an eye toward steering students to classes — and careers — they might not have considered before.
Garza said SCS students’ results mirror those of the nation, with 81 percent of young women showing a high interest in career clusters related to the arts, human services, and teaching. Only 12 percent of SCS’ female students expressed an interest in careers rooted in STEM subjects, but 54 percent of them were shown to have an aptitude in those areas.
“The other thing we see in the data is that it cuts evenly across not only gender but race,” Garza said. “If you think about a field such as computer programming, where 80 percent of the field is men, and probably predominantly white men, there’s going to be an issue in that industry come 2020 and beyond when only 24 percent of the population is white males. … Where do you find more women? Where do you find more minorities? This is the power of a tool like this.”