Ohio has approximately 1 million citizens with no high school diploma and few prospects for finishing their education. That's more men and women than live in Ohio's capital city.
These individuals are stuck at a dead end, in part because state law prohibits them from returning to school to finish a diploma once they reach 22 years of age. In the meantime, Ohio employers are at their own kind of dead end: Hundreds of them around the state have openings for skilled jobs they can't fill because of a shortage of qualified workers.
This talent gap is costing Ohio's economy billions. It also is a major concern of Gov. John Kasich. The governor believes we must connect Ohio's mostly poor dropouts to the free education and training they need to enter Ohio's unfilled job slots, escape poverty and help fuel a healthy state economy.
Pickaway-Ross Career & Technology Center will play an important role as one of five educational institutions that will help plan and create infrastructure in the next six months to test a statewide adult diploma program, the governor's brainchild. Other institutions that will be working alongside us on the project are Cuyahoga Community College, Miami Valley Career Technology Center, Penta Career Center and Stark State College.
It's clear that just helping these citizens earn a high school diploma will not be enough. The vast majority of today's workforce slots demand technical, critical-thinking and problem-solving skills that come only from a good education and hands-on exposure to industry-specific technology.
The adult students who will enter Ohio's Adult Diploma Pilot Program, scheduled to run in 2016 and 2017, will simultaneously earn a high school diploma and receive training and certification for a job currently in demand among Ohio employers.
Our work will be, first, to find out how to contact these citizens, many of whom do not have jobs, own homes or participate in other community infrastructures that could lead us to them.
We will set up procedures to evaluate individuals once we find them, so we can determine what help they need to be able to take advantage of the program. General knowledge and literacy levels may vary widely among members of this group.
Once we identify individual knowledge and skill gaps that could short-circuit success, we'll help devise systems that can prepare members of this untapped workforce to learn. At the same time, we will help figure out how to offer entry points for individuals of different skill and knowledge levels.
Pickaway-Ross leaders also will be asking employers in our region to tell us which jobs they most urgently need workers for, as well as what types of industry credentials they need those workers to have. Our partner planning schools will do the same in their areas of the state.
Stay tuned for details on when Ohioans 22 years of age or older without diplomas can begin applying for Ohio's Adult Diploma Pilot Program. Getting the program up and running is an ambitious task, but it is an achievable one. I'm gratified that Pickaway-Ross can be part of an initiative that is so practical for our state and so life-changing for its citizens.
Dennis Franks is superintendent of Pickaway-Ross Career & Technology Center. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.