Over 100 years ago, America’s business and policy leaders identified the need to create and retain the next generation of leaders for our national economy. These visionaries saw the direct connection between creating a talented workforce, strengthening our economy and protecting our national security. Their solution, a collaboration between America’s public education system and business and industry that created a comprehensive learning model that includes: classroom instruction, applied learning and assessment. The model has proved itself durable, adaptable and, most important, effective. Originally called vocational education, and focused on agricultural and household careers, the program has adapted and expanded to serve the needs or our nation’s changing economy. Today, career and technical education (CTE) programs prepare over 2 million students for college, career and community leadership every year. The impact of the programs is measured through student achievement, business engagement and emulation from emerging economies. And while there is much to be celebrated in the accomplishment and evolution of our national strategy, each measure of success also poses a challenge to our continued efforts to create and retain the next generation of leadership. Student Achievement Taking DECA as an example, we know that the model works. Independent third-party research conducted by the National Research Center for College and University Admissions (NRCCUA) demonstrates that:
  • 93% of DECA students say that participation has prepared them with 21st Century Skills
  • 87% of DECA students say that participation has prepared them for college and careers
  • 90% of DECA teachers say that the learning model is effective in the classroom
What we have learned over our 70-year history, is that while this model remains effective, we must anticipate change – for content and delivery – to stay relevant. In the 1980s, we fundamentally changed our learning model to align with changing accountabilities in federal law and the changing needs of business. In the early 2000s, we completely reimagined our brand, instructional resources and delivery methods to address a generational shift in our teacher core. Today, we are grappling with ever-changing governmental accountabilities, disruption in all business sectors and students’ 21sth century mindsets that challenge all conventions about the relevance of college and careers. If the face of all of that, enrollment in DECA and other CTE programs is at an all-time high. Business Engagement Again, business and industry was at the forefront of the movement to create career and technical education. They’ve played an integral role in every part of our comprehensive learning model. First, they’ve helped us create the performance indicators upon which our student assessment is measured. Next, they’ve supported classroom instruction by serving as guest speakers. They’ve provided applied learning opportunities through project-based learning, internships and employment. And, finally, they’ve served as judges in career competitions that evaluate students understanding of concepts and skill development. All of this made perfect sense for the past 70-years. Companies like Sears and JC Penney were anchor stores and employers in nearly every community across the country. They both needed a steady pipeline of new employees and community engagement opportunities for existing employees. Then came the computer, disruption, recession and that perfect model will never be the same again. Obviously, that doesn’t mean that business doesn’t still want, and need, to create and retain the next generation of leaders. It seems like we hear about the “skills gap” every day. Personally, I don’t believe that we have a skills gap. There is need, no doubt. But, there is supply – over 2 million high school and college students, annually, who have expressed an affirmative interest in every major cluster of employment in the national economy; and in becoming entrepreneurs themselves. The solution, in my mind, is illustrated by the new iPad commercial where the young person asks, “what’s a computer?” That is to say, “how do we engage the model today?” Fortunately, over 70 national and international business leaders are working with us to make the model relevant today and anticipate tomorrow. Emulation In the 14 years that I have been at DECA, I have met with many foreign government delegations, NGOs and private education companies to explain how we “teach business” in the United States. I’ve also worked with the American Councils on International Education on a proposal to integrate our model into Eastern European school systems. These visionaries, like ours so many years ago, have come to understand that government and business have a role in creating and retaining the next generation of leadership for their economies. While DECA doesn’t actively develop outside of the United States, nine foreign countries have established associations and actively participate in our comprehensive learning program and International Career Development Conference. Canada is our most successful foreign association and boasts over 10,000 student members who are highly successful in international competition. The reason that we haven’t actively developed outside of our boarders is an abundance of caution toward fidelity to our charges in federal law, connection to state departments of education and delivery of locally adopted curriculum. There is purpose and value in our model and brand. That’s why our international friends want to emulate us. While I absolutely believe in and support our fidelity to mission, here too is a lesson for DECA. We are now all in the global market place and I absolutely believe that our international partners can help DECA better fulfill our mission. So, there’s the secret to creating and retaining the next generation of leaders. It’s only been right in front of us for 100 years… The model was born of necessity and driven by the creative vision of America’s very best business leaders, entrepreneurs and educators. It has risen to every economic and policy challenge presented to date. It faces its greatest economic and policy challenges ever. While past performance is not a guarantee of future results… I absolutely believe that we can and will meet the challenge and continue to create and retain the next generation of global leaders. About the author: John Fistolera is Assistant Executive Director of Corporate & External Affairs, DECA, Inc. John is responsible for the visioning and stewardship of DECA's strategic partnerships, advocacy and external affairs. Prior to joining DECA, he was an advocate and professional staffperson in the California State Legislature.   

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