GPS Education Partners (GPSEd) is bridging the skills gap by helping students transition from the classroom to a technical career — exposing them to viable technical careers, while effectively tackling the worker shortage plaguing companies nationwide.
Nearly one-quarter of manufacturers say they’ve been forced to turn down new business opportunities due to a lack of skilled workers, a critical challenge that is only likely to exacerbate as Baby Boomers ready for retirement, according to a 2019 report from the National Association of Manufacturers.
But a departing generation doesn’t exactly paint the whole picture, explains Mary Anne Martiny, GPSEd director of Community Engagement. Besides advancing technology pushing low-skilled workers to the wayside, misperceptions and general lack of awareness about technical careers have swayed a new crop of workers from even considering the jobs in the first place.
GPSEd is on a mission to help businesses and communities rethink workforce challenges with work-based learning solutions.
For more than 20 years, the Waukesha-based non-profit organization has been leading the charge in developing work-based learning programs, providing hundreds of students with real-life work experiences in high-demand technical careers within manufacturing and construction.
GPSEd isn’t a school, however. Instead, the organization serves as an intermediary through its youth apprenticeship and career-readiness solutions, connecting companies to student talent, and developing and delivering customized curriculum and programming fine-tuned for each partnership.
Students in the GPSEd manufacturing youth apprenticeship program spend half their day receiving one-on-one instruction in the classroom at one of GPSEd’s seven education centers or their home school, and the other half in credential- and wage-earning positions at regional companies.
Businesses gain the opportunity to build a talent pipeline, and students are prepared with the knowledge and skills required by potential future employers — confidently, setting them up for sustainable, lifelong careers. The goal is to create a level playing field for all learners and create the next generation of workforce development.
Martiny says many work-based learning participants are underrepresented students who struggle to thrive in traditional learning environments, preventing them from reaching their true potential, she says.
“Although GPSEd serves all students, we will not shy away from the students that are on the verge of dropping out of high school,” says Martiny, adding nearly half of GPSEd students live in low-income households. “Many of our students are disengaged and unable to see the connection between their learning and their work. They may not connect with their home high school, or they want to learn differently with their hands. What would it mean if they have this exposure?”
Part of GPSEd’s mission is to remove the stigma often associated with technical careers including those in manufacturing. Both society and school systems consistently promote the pursuit of a four-year college education, but that model simply doesn’t work for everybody, Martiny says.
“It’s not the dark, dirty, dingy shop floor anymore — it’s so much more,” she adds. “If you look at technical careers today, there are life-sustaining wages that come from here. We can really help our students create a life plan and what’s right for them.”
Nearly 85 percent of students who participate in work-based learning through GPSEd go on to work in technical fields, Martiny says.
But the work that is involved in reaching students and improving outcomes isn’t done alone. GPSEd relies on its dedicated business partners and philanthropic support to generate long-lasting change into the next 20 years.
Bader Philanthropies has partnered with many organizations that invest in and train people for meaningful work, including GPSEd Education.
“When we wisely and strategically invest in a workforce, individuals are less likely to make [poor] choices,” explains Brandon Wigley, a program officer for Bader Philanthropies. “When people are engaged in meaningful work, you create a space for individuals to thrive and flourish. Businesses win. And, communities win.”
Martiny says part of her role is bringing everybody together in collaboration.
“When you attend one of our graduations, you think ‘Wow, this was a student who was going to be a high-school dropout and now they’ve become successful,’” Martiny says. “Many times they get hired after graduation and they fly. We’ve changed lives.”