Brad Ban’s dad is a retired miner, but Brad doesn’t plan on following his footsteps.
Instead, the Mullan High School sophomore’s future will involve computers or electrical engineering, he said.
Unlike the silver mines, “electricity will be around forever,” Ban explained Wednesday.
The decline of the natural resources industries in the Silver Valley and in Benewah County is why schools there have received a five-year, $431,000-per-year “School to Work” grant.
Only eight of the rural grants were awarded nationwide.
On Wednesday, Ban joined other students, educators, parents and business people to learn how to prepare for the changing workplace.
About 75 people from six school districts in Benewah and Shoshone counties attended the three-day workshop at North Idaho College’s Workforce Training Center.
It was the first anniversary of the national School to Work Opportunities Act that created the grant program.
Two Wallace High School students, Leslie Clark and Gina Hulsizer, said they were interested in pursuing accounting careers and are taking accounting classes.
“I’m sure there’s other things I’d be interested in,” Clark said. But like most students, she is uncertain about what will be available in the future job market.
The grant will help pay for career information centers in schools and for trips to visit people in fields that interest students.
The grant, which is being administered by the North Idaho Private Industry Council, is designed to create business and school partnerships, start school-based businesses, encourage apprenticeships outside of school and practical academic classes in school.
“It will be really good for Wallace, because we don’t have much,” Hulsizer said. “There’s not much going on at all.”
In essence, the School-to-Work model is designed to revolutionize schools.
Lunch speaker Cal Crow, a consultant from the Center on Education and Work in Des Moines, argued that schools are out of touch with reality.
He advocates “rethinking the whole purpose of education in this country,” Crow said. “We’re hard-pressed to say what does a grade mean, or what does a diploma mean.”
This year, he said, 700,000 high school graduates will not be able to read their diplomas. And soon, fast-food jobs will be hard to come by as more businesses move toward automation.
Under the new model, schools are organized according to career paths, not academic departments. Students will start a career portfolio in middle school, which adapts, changes and grows as they progress through school.
Students will not progress to another grade until they’ve mastered certain skills. Students will learn to be flexible, and have multiple skills that allow them to adapt.
“Suppose you’re the best darn timber worker in the world and no one needs timber workers. What happens? You’re stuck,” Crow said. “That’s what’s happening now.”
As Crow delivered a competitive job forecast, some students wore furrowed brows.
Their schools are only in the planning stages for adopting the new teaching model. Some students doubt the grant will directly help them.
“It’s going to take some time,” said St. Maries sophomore Andy Baerlocher. “I wish I could be here when it gets going.”