Bay Area Needs a Multimedia School-to-Career Partnership

By Bob Pearlman

Published in the Marin Independent Journal, June 30, 1997

If the Bay Area was a nation, it would be the worldís twelfth largest economy. All across the Bay Area, from Marin to Oakland to the Silicon Valley and San Francisco, employment is surging, driven especially by growth in the high-tech sector. According to the American Electronics Association, Californiaís high-tech companies created 55,000 jobs in 1996, or almost a quarter of the nationís 240,000 new high-tech jobs. Most of that growth occurred in the Bay Area.. In the North Bay too, high-tech businesses continue to spring up and several business organizations have recently joined forces to organize the regionís first-ever high-tech job fair, to be held September 5 and 6 at the Marin Center in San Rafael.

But look at this same phenomenon from the eyes of Bay Area youth. Few know about these developments, even fewer know about the jobs in these industries and the skills or knowledge base they require. The reason for this is that few opportunities exist today for Bay Area youth to engage in quality work-based learning opportunities-- job shadowing, mentorships, internships--paid and unpaid--that would prepare students for todayís job environment. Our communities lack the necessary School-to-Career (STC) Partnerships.

While many other areas of the country have developed extensive STC programs to provide structured career pathways and opportunities to young people, California lags far behind. The Golden State was one of the last states in the country to apply for and receive federal funding through the 1994 National School to Work Act, and just this month began receiving applications from local STC partnerships across the state. Meanwhile, students in the stateís schools are missing out on the tremendous opportunities that often result from partnerships and programs that connect the needs of the regionís youth to the real trends in the regional economy .

Competition for skilled high-tech workers is intense and while the Bay Area will continue to be a Mecca for talent, it will have to do much more to attract the skilled personnel it needs for future growth. Job fairs, like that of the North Bayís, will not be enough. Another strategy, growing your own, will need to take hold.


The Multimedia Academy

Imagine if you were a high school student in the Bay Area today and one of the options open to you was a Multimedia Academy at the local high school. At the academy, you and other students would engage in complex projects where you would not only learn the technical skills in multimedia, digital media, and interactive media, but would also learn communication and presentation skills, teamwork, project management, plus the traditional classroom skills (e.g. mathematics, English, science). In the course of completing your project, you would also learn about the broader context of these new industries: how high-tech fits into our economic history as a nation, how your own region fits into the history of high-tech, how computers fit into the history of invention, art, and creativity, and what the impact of high-tech has been thus far on our nationís role in the global market.

In the ninth and tenth grades you would have the opportunity to job shadow technical personnel in the industry, and some of them would function as your mentors, and/or tele-mentors (email mentors). By the 11th grade you will have your first internship, and work as part of a project team at a partner company. It is even possible that your internship could become a paid workplace experience or a summer job. And because your high school is part of a School-to-Career Collaborative with partner Multimedia companies and with the local Community Colleges and the Cal State University campuses, you would take courses simultaneously at the colleges, work on projects with your own teachers, college faculty, and workplace mentors, and possibly get a scholarship to the college of your choice.

Is this a pipe dream? No, this is the norm in cities that have an advanced STC infrastructure such as Boston, Massachusetts. There, 1400 high school students have structured career pathways today in a range of industries including health, financial services, biotechnology, tourism, and teaching.

This is not the "New Vocational Education", tracking students into limited careers These School-to-Career programs help students develop what Harvardís Richard Murnane and MITís Frank Levy call The New Basic Skills, in their new book of the same name. Murnane and Levy show that effective STC programs, like Bostonís Pro-Tech program for the health industry, lead to a tremendous rise in student aspirations and motivation, and in their ability to work as part of a team. Their findings also demonstrate that experiencing career opportunities in one field, in no way limits students to careers in those fields. For example, a student interning as a radiology technician now aspires to be a doctor or a lawyer. Her experience taught her some aspects of a career as a radiologist, but more important, gave her the social skills and values that would make her a desirable team member. The program also taught her that she could be anything she wanted to be as long as she received a solid education.

The SkillsNet consortium, lead by the Bay Area Multimedia Partnership (BAMP) and the North Valley Private Industry Council (NOVA), just published "A Labor Market Analysis of the Interactive Digital Media Industry: Opportunities in Multimedia". Through a survey of the industry the report identifies the core competencies that form the basic skill foundation for employees as: teamwork, communication, problem solving, creativity, understanding of the production process, understanding of interactivity, and lifelong learning. These skills are not acquired through the traditional high school curriculum. That is why it is necessary for students to be engaged in a new type of learning, through real-world, in-depth, group project work, at school and in the workplace.

We are beginning to see positive efforts in the Bay Area. The Autodesk Foundation has been working closely with Marin County partner schools for several years to develop solid school-to-career projects. And now, a coalition of businesses, educators, school-to-career providers and local STC partnership organizations has formed the Bay Area School-to-Career Action Network (BaySCAN). BaySCAN helps to develop a Bay Area regional infrastructure to support school-to-career programs and initiatives. Through regional activities focused on areas of common interest such as employer engagement, collaboration among local school-to-career partnerships, and joint industry-school efforts on curriculum, standards, whole school reform and public information, BaySCAN initiatives may lead to significant career and learning opportunities for Bay Area youth.

One BaySCAN initiative just underway is the plan for the BaySCAN Multimedia Learning Collaborative which will link students and educators in over 21 school districts in 9 San Francisco Bay Area counties with corporate, community, and higher education partners. Through this collaborative, students, and in particular those who are educationally and/or economically disadvantaged, will receive opportunities to gain the skills, knowledge, and practical work-based experience needed to pursue post-secondary education and/or become employed in high performance multimedia workplaces. Over a five-year period the collaborative will be scaled-up to include a total of at least thirty high schools, as well as scores of businesses, and other organizations region wide.

This plan seeks to realize for North Bay and other Bay Area youth the career pathway programs and opportunities imagined above. It's time for the Bay Area to put such an STC infrastructure in place, not just in the multimedia industry, but in many additional industries as well.


Bob Pearlman is the former President of the Autodesk Foundation. The Autodesk Foundation (1992-2000) w as a 501 (c)(3) not-for-profit organization that gave technical assistance to K-12 educators in the areas of project-based learning and school-to-work. One of the Foundationís primary supporters, Autodesk, Inc., is the world's leading supplier of PC-based design software and PC multimedia tools.