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Column: Students need job-savvy counselors

Nicola Soares

As someone who specializes in helping connect employers with potential employees, I’m delighted to report that there are hundreds of good careers available in Michigan, many offering wages and benefits that can range to six figures. Unfortunately, many of these careers won’t be filled, because job seekers, especially our students about to graduate from high school, and their counselors, simply don’t know they exist.

This matters for everyone in our state. The lack of awareness of in-demand careers is a major roadblock employers face in finding talent for open positions, and it’s having an effect on our economy in lost income, productivity and future earning potential. Too often, time-challenged school guidance counselors don’t have the information and insights they themselves need to properly advise students at the moment students most need that information to plan their futures.

The good news is, a solution exists. House Bill 4181, which has been passed by the House of Representatives and is currently in the Senate Education Committee, aims to give school guidance counselors more time to better understand the skills needed for the future of work. It directs guidance counselors to focus part of their recertification hours on both college admissions and career counseling during their 5-year, 150-hour recertification process.

Under the bill, counselors would spend 25 of those hours solely for college admissions and 25 solely for career counseling. This dedicated time would help them expand their knowledge bases and find out about challenging and rewarding careers or fields that students might never have considered before.

Simply put, by gaining exposure to where opportunities for students exist, whether college-bound or in alternative routes that lead to professional skill trades or technical positions, counselors will be in a better position to advise young people (and their parents) on important decisions about their educations and career paths.

For counselors, this is critical. The Michigan Association for College Admissions Counseling has discovered this awareness gap can be directly and efficiently addressed, and believes giving guidance counselors more time to learn about the future of careers that exist as part of their certification could make a huge difference.

Our own Kelly Services research, analyzing the current state of work and skill demand and where talent is most needed to match up with present and future jobs, backs up those findings. Given future skill demand, where jobs will be and what skills are necessary to fill those positions, we see a continued positive supply vs. negative demand situation vis a vis jobs available in certain fields unless immediate steps are taken to address this issue.

Frankly, helping our students find the college or career that best suits them is beneficial to all of us. Many high-paying jobs in manufacturing, technical fields and professional skill trades don’t require a four-year or graduate degree, but instead require an associate’s degree, certification or on-the-job training. That’s a win for students who don’t want or can’t afford a higher education but want a rewarding career, a win for employers who have specific skill needs, and a win for our state’s economy, which certainly would grow as a result.

Such legislation isn’t always a priority in state legislatures, but it should be.

As a former teacher myself, I strongly support passing it in this session because I believe our state has a special opportunity to be a leader in the area of finding careers for all. To me, guidance counselors are the unsung heroes in the educational community, the initial talent advisers for our students.

Nicola Soares is vice president and managing director at Kelly Educational Staffing for Kelly Services.