Cincinnati Public Schools (CPS) is teaming up with regional employers to prepare students for the world of work and position them for long-term success in careers in Southwest Ohio.
Increasingly, many CPS students are moving directly into the workforce after graduation—some pursuing college degrees concurrently, and some students choosing not to attend college after high school at all. At the same time, the region’s employers are looking for skilled workers, especially in certain industries that are rapidly growing.
As a result, CPS, through its career-based learning program, is working with area businesses to equip students with valuable certifications, work readiness training, and an employer ready to hire them full-time upon graduation. Ultimately, the program will have offerings in all 16 nationally recognized career clusters.
“We work to help students identify employers that will help them pursue a career and not just a job,” said Brittney Cousins, MPA, Career-Based Learning Manager at Cincinnati Public Schools. “As a district, we made the decision to look for partners that we could work with to create employment pipelines for our students.”
Supply chain and logistics is an in-demand career field, and Cincinnati is a prime location that already hosts several large logistics companies including DHL and Amazon. That’s why CPS Superintendent, Laura Mitchell, and Cousins met with Jesse Simmons, the Director of Supply Chain OKI, a tristate business lead organization that could provide students with a career pathway in supply chain. Jesse Simmons organized a team that included DHL, Cincinnati State, PNC, Cincinnati Works, Supply Chain OKI (United Way/Partners for Competitive Workforce) and CPS to develop a comprehensive co-op program model with three components. Then, based on data gathered from the district’s career planning system, two high schools were chosen to participate based on the number of students there with an interest in technical careers. The first group of students was enrolled in the program this spring.
The model’s first component is industry-specific knowledge, which is provided through classroom instruction. Cincinnati State already had a two-year degree in Supply Chain Management. The community college sent instructors to the high-school classrooms to teach an introductory class on logistics two days a week.
Cousins points out that this effort by the instructors to come to the schools was vital to the success of the program. “People underestimate the amount of work it takes to take students out of the building during the school day,” she said. The flexibility of the university eliminated a barrier, allowing students to complete the college coursework.
The coursework not only provided a background in supply chain, it prepared the students to earn two industry-recognized credentials, the Certified Logistics Associate (CLA) and the Certified Logistics Technician (CLT).
Through this program, the students are also earning high school course credit and six credit hours at Cincinnati State. For each of the two credential tests that the students pass, they will earn 12 points worth of credentials that can be applied toward their graduation requirement.
The second part of the model is workforce readiness training, which is provided in the classroom on the other three days of the week. Cincinnati Works, a nonprofit specializing in helping people achieve self-sufficiency through employment, provided this instruction.
PNC Bank staff also came into the classroom to teach the basics of banking and financial literacy. Some of the students also received some assistance opening their first bank accounts in preparation for receiving paychecks, which typically require direct deposit capability.
The third component of the model is work-based learning. DHL hired the students at an hourly rate of $13.55 to work at least 10 hours per week on weekends through the end of the semester. The company also provides transportation to the facility located 45 minutes away, across a bridge, in Northern Kentucky.
Over the course of 16 weeks, the various components of the program were phased in. For the first eight weeks, the students were primarily focused on the coursework from Cincinnati State. It was at the ninth week that the students began their career readiness training.
“We were very strategic as to how we rolled that out,” said Cousins. “Toward the end of the semester, now, all three parts are active and working in tandem.”
At the close of the semester, the students will officially interview for full-time, permanent positions at DHL. The company is prepared to hire all of the students, but it’s not guaranteed. Going through a formal interview is another part of the learning experience for the students. But, the students have had the opportunity to demonstrate their value throughout their time at the company.
“I told the students, ‘The first day you step foot in that organization, is your long-term interview. If you want to be part of that organization you should conduct yourself appropriately. Don’t miss days. Be inquisitive. Demonstrate that you are a valuable worker,’” said Cousins.
While this program prepares the students for a career in supply chain and logistics, working for a company like DHL has other potential advantages, according to Cousins. During their co-op experience, some students may see other career paths at the company that look desirable. If this happens, and the career requires the student to go on for some post-secondary education, they can work with the HR department, keep their position in the distribution center, and take advantage of the company’s tuition reimbursement program while they pursue a degree.
Cousins attributes the success of this co-op program to the right balance between planning and implementation. The district took about six months to form the right partnerships, establish funding, and plan the program.
“My advice would be, ‘Don’t be too afraid to take that first step. You can’t learn it until you do it,’” said Cousins.
It was also beneficial to take time to explain the supply chain industry to the students, because student buy-in is paramount, according to Cousins.
“Supply Chain OKI did a really good job, along with DHL, to help with recruitment,” said Cousins. “It’s one thing for me to go out and talk about career exploration but it’s another thing for the students to have individuals from companies come to them. That shows that company is vested.”
Representatives from Supply Chain OKI and DHL helped explain logistics and supply chain to the students through the example of an everyday item, bottled water. All of the steps from obtaining the raw materials for making the bottle to filling it with water were explored. Then, a representative from DHL followed up explaining the company’s role in the supply chain.
“DHL brought it down to specifics, saying, ‘If you are involved in this program, this is where you will fit in this whole sphere of work.’ This brought the story to life for the kids,” said Cousins
A big part of the program’s success was the elimination of barriers, like transportation and connection to the students’ high school experience. DHL-provided transportation made it possible for students to get to work 45 minutes away.
Incorporating the program into the students’ senior year of high school alleviates the fear of the unknown for students, according to Cousins.
“We made it comfortable and brought the experiences to them. We showed them a group of adults who want them to succeed and that we are invested in their future beyond high school. We removed the barrier of having to figure it out all on their own,” she said.
While DHL has committed to providing transportation throughout the first year of these students’ employment with the company, the district worked to ensure the students have a long-term plan for transportation.
“We’re devising a system where the students save a portion of their paycheck to go toward transportation. This money that they save will be matched by a financial institution so they can have a substantial amount of money set aside for a down payment on a vehicle. In concert, we’re working with car dealers in the area to help students find reliable used cars and provide financing. The car dealers will also provide training on the proper maintenance of a car,” said Cousins,
As the first group of students graduate from this program, Cousins says there will be a few changes in the program heading into next fall. The model is being expanded from one semester to fill out the entire school year. This longer timeline will give the school more flexibility in providing the necessary coursework and will give the students the entire spring semester to work and earn money.
Moving forward, Cincinnati Public Schools will make this model available to a variety of organizations in other industries who have expressed an interest. These include opportunities in construction, public safety, and hospitality. Supply Chain OKI is also working to bring a similar model to all of the schools in the Northern Kentucky school district.
For more information, contact Brittney Cousins by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.