In Howell, MI, on the campus of Cleary College, there is a public school for students in grades 9-12. What makes this school so special is that local business people who urgently needed skilled workers for their companies founded it. For the trucking industry, struggling with a growing shortage of workers for virtually every industry job category, this business-built high school may finally provide a template for a practical way out of the skilled worker shortage.
“Livingston Technical Academy was started about seven years ago by area business people who needed skilled workers and by then-State Senator Michael J. Rogers (now Congressman Rogers for Michigan's 8th district), who was interested in reaching young people struggling within the traditional public school system,” explains Todd O'Grady, building trades instructor and internship coordinator for the school. “Today we have 165 students and we expect to add 20 more next year.
“Besides the regular high school basics of reading, writing and mathematics, our students get technical training in the areas of manufacturing/engineering, electronics, information technology, the building trades or general business as well as actual work experience. Seniors complete two five-week internships with local companies,” O'Grady says. “During those weeks, they report right to work, not school, so they can discover for themselves what it's really like to do a particular job. In the building trades, for instance, we try to place students in internships that fit their personal job interests, such as plumbing, finish carpentry or electrical.”
“I remember Livingston's first valedictorian,” recalls Sylvia Warner, press secretary to Congressman Rogers. “He was a 16 year-old who had planned to drop out of his public high school, but his mother had convinced him to give the new technical school, Livingston, a try. His internship program included working on automobile engines, and it captured his enthusiasm like nothing else had. He went on to study engineering at Michigan State. During his graduation speech at Livingston, he thanked the business people in the audience for, ‘not giving up on a kid like me.’”
A tuition-free charter school, Livingston is one of about 2,700 such schools operating in 36 states and the District of Columbia and one of more than 180 operating in Michigan alone. Like other public schools, Livingston receives funding from the state on a per-pupil basis. Unlike other public schools, however, the charter school depends on grant money and private funding for its major capital expenses. “In the beginning, we got our start-up money from the business partners who helped to found the school,” says O'Grady. “Now we depend mostly on grants and our per-pupil funding.”
Most charter schools have not been started by businesses, but Livingston is not the only such operation. In Washington, D.C., for example, the Marriott Corp. and the District's hotel and restaurant industry founded the Marriott Hospitality Public Charter School in 1999 to encourage students to pursue carriers in the hospitality industry.
Imagine the trucking industry taking charge of its own worker shortage problems by founding its own charter schools. They would provide a solid grounding in the basic high school subjects plus opportunities to explore and prepare for careers in the trucking industry. No matter how you feel about charter schools in general, they may represent a very practical and pragmatic way to assure that there will be enough skilled workers to manage tomorrow's fleets and move tomorrow's freight.