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By Gary D. Grote

An insert in a recent publication pretty much stated the obvious in a feature titled “Factors in the Admission Decision.” The article, according to the National Association for College Admission Counseling, ranked 16 factors that colleges consider when evaluating high school students for entrance into their schools. Number one, which makes complete sense, is grades in college prep courses, which 96 percent of the schools felt were either of considerable or moderate importance.

At the other end, though, were: 11, student portfolio; 12, student interview; 14, extracurricular activities; and lastly, 16, work experience, which only 19 percent felt was either of considerable or moderate importance.

As a Chamber of Commerce executive director for more than 20 years, knowing the employment challenges and needs of our member businesses, you wonder what message this sends to parents and students when considering future career plans.

The Greater East Aurora Chamber of Commerce’s Business Education Alliance has addressed this issue many times. The emphasis on grades is important, but the value of work experience, internships and apprenticeships is very much overlooked.

Many associations and businesses advocate the need for training programs to fill the void in well-paying technological, manufacturing and skilled trade positions. But the answer to filling this need goes much deeper.

Career awareness and exploration needs to start much sooner in a student’s career than his junior or senior year in school. Students and parents need to be more open and willing to change their perception of what these occupations offer in terms of attractive and fulfilling careers, rather than their student becoming part of the 60 percent of college freshmen who, after four years in school, still haven’t graduated or have dropped out partly because they are unsure of what they want to do with their lives. Not to mention the loans that need to be paid back.

Curriculums need to seriously start providing the age-appropriate experience as soon as middle school, if not earlier, to expose students to different occupations, jobs and businesses – and our businesses are willing to help. We need to work to develop more well-rounded children, while stressing the value of work experiences and internships. These concepts need to change from the bottom up, with parents demanding a better plan.

Continuing on this path, with a lack of direction and students ill-prepared to meet the demands of the workplace, is a disservice to our students and the future of our communities. Not changing this course is going to have a significant negative impact on our children and our nation down the road.

Gary D. Grote is executive director of the Greater East Aurora Chamber of Commerce.