The annual ritual known as “Signing Day” that occurs at many high schools across the country typically involves student-athletes agreeing to play a sport at a college or university that has recruited them, usually in exchange for a scholarship.
But now more high schools are lending the term to recognize graduating seniors who have “signed on” to work for local employers instead of attending college—a career path that has gone largely ignored by school corporations.
First-timers this year included Perry Central and Tell City high schools in southern Indiana; Crawfordsville High School, and North and South Montgomery high schools in the western part of the state; and Fort Wayne Community Schools Career Academy at Anthis in northeastern Indiana.
They all held symbolic ‘Signing Day’ events in May to honor those seniors who have chosen to go straight into the workforce, landing jobs in such occupations as construction, cosmetology, manufacturing and information technology.
“We’d like to call attention to the fact that there are great jobs that pay good wages and meet the skillset that kids have, where they can really follow their passions and be happy,” said Mary Roberson, superintendent of Perry Central Schools.
The Indiana Department of Workforce Development (DWD) projects that employers in the state will need to fill 1 million additional jobs in the next decade, half of which won’t require a four-year college degree, but some type of certification or credential beyond a high school diploma.
Yet many of the students are already familiar with their employers and have some sort of technical training, either by completing internships or certification programs while in high school.
Together, Perry Central and Tell City honored seven seniors who have chosen that career path.
“It’s nice that we’re finally recognizing kids who are going straight into the workforce instead of holding them to that expectation that you need to go onto college and get a degree,” said John Scioldo, superintendent of Tell City High School. “I think that’s the biggest take-home from this. That college isn’t for everybody and you don’t have to go to be successful.”
In Montgomery County, 24 students from the three county school districts committed to join the workforce.
The inaugural “Signing Day” had the support of Crawfordsville Mayor Todd Barton.
“A top factor in helping our employers succeed is a workforce-ready pipeline,” he said. “This workforce signing event is a first step in helping build that talent pipeline while at the same time retaining our bright and talented young people in our community.”
A similar event on May 22 in Fort Wayne drew top state officials, signifying the growing importance of having a workforce that possesses the skills to compete in today’s economy.
Nearly 50 students took part in the ceremony at the Career Academy at Anthis, with Lt. Gov. Suzanne Crouch, DWD Commissioner Fred Payne and Fort Wayne Mayor Tom Henry in attendance.
Edmond O’Neal, president of Northeast Indiana Works, said holding the event was patterned after signing days that typically recognize the college choices of athletes.
“Historically, educational or athletic recognition has been reserved for high school students who are about to enter college or those who are about to graduate from college,” O’Neal said. “And yet, many of our high school students are choosing to pursue education and training that allows them to go directly into the workforce. Their accomplishments are equally significant to the accomplishments of students who choose a college path.”
DWD is helping to skill-up the state’s workforce by offering State Earn & Learn (SEAL) certificates to employers and high schools through its Office of Work-Based Learning & Apprenticeship.
During the Signing Day festivities in Tell City, Matt DeGolyer (pictured left), a regional director in DWD’s Office of Work-Based Learning & Apprenticeship, presented Perry Central High School with two State Earn & Learn (SEAL) certificates for its advanced manufacturing and health care programs.
SEALs are structured, scalable programs ranging from just eight weeks to two years in length and include industry certifications tailored for any sector. They are designed to meet the skills that employers demand, are geared toward both adult and youth populations, and satisfy Indiana’s new graduation pathway requirements.
“We have multiple schools and companies currently utilizing SEALs to advance Indiana’s workforce,” said Darrel Zeck, executive director of the state’s Office of Work-Based Learning & Apprenticeship. “Most of these programs offer dual credit, so while students may be entering the workforce upon graduation from high school, their school work could also lead to a certificate or associate’s degree at the same time.”