The world of work is tough. Sometimes it is difficult for people entering the workforce to understand success is more than just having a skill or credential or diploma. Employers routinely report the number one cause of failure in employment is lack of job retention skills.

Job retention skills are not a new concept to Great Plains Technology Center (GPTC). We have always integrated work-based practices into our classes. GPTC also supports student leadership activities that help build both work skills and work habits. GPTC may not have a football team, but we have students competing in public speaking, resume, job skill demonstration and other events – and winning.

GPTC models its programs and practices on industry-based standards. If a student will have to wear a uniform in an occupation, he or she wears it as a student. It is also not at all unusual to find a time clock or sign in log in a classroom or shop at GPTC. Most employees must account for their time and students begin learning that in their career and technical program. Each student is graded weekly on “employability skills.” Those skills include punctuality, preparedness for work, teamwork and attitude. An employee who is on time, prepared to work and able to act professionally, is an employee with a good chance of success. These skills are ingrained in GPTC students from their first day of class.

GPTC also supports student organizations that allow students to compete and succeed using the skills and attitudes they have learned in their programs. These organizations are specific to the particular career field in which the students are enrolled. Students in nursing or other health programs join Health Occupations Students of America (HOSA) and students in welding, carpentry, or other skilled trades join SkillsUSA. There are several other active career and technical student organizations (CTSO’s) on campus, but their final goal is the same: to prepare students to succeed in both job and leadership skills.

Competition for students in CTSO’s fall into two categories: job-based and leadership. Leadership competitions include resume preparation, interview skills, extemporaneous speaking and prepared presentations. Students compete at many levels, from district to state to national. GPTC students who place in the district or qualify for state competition through online testing progress to compete against every other student who has qualified in the state. This means they will meet, network, and compete against a diverse group of students from similar program areas. A high school nurse assistant student from Cache could easily be competing with a biomedical science student from Tulsa in the Health Career Preparation contest. This single activity may be their first exposure to professional interview practices. Preparation and competition leads to so much more than a trophy in a case. It opens the door to a career a little bit wider.

If a GPTC student places first in the state, they are eligible to participate in a national competition in the same area. This gives a student the opportunity to go to another state and repeat the same competitive and networking processes that have happened at the district and state level. Sometimes, it is a student’s first time out of Oklahoma or on an airplane. The opportunity to learn and grow through CTSO competition give students an edge over their peers in work-based experience and the ability to communicate and network effectively.

Career tech students have an advantage. They have been trained to perform a necessary skill in a work-like setting and have been rewarded for their efforts. They know how to be on time, to be prepared and to apply themselves to the tasks at hand. It is more than just knowing what to do. Our students know how to find and keep a job because they’ve practiced it daily, competed with other students across the state and nation in a variety of leadership and career skills, and succeeded.

Clarence Fortney, Great Plains Technology Center Superintendent/CEO.

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