Niles New Tech Entrepreneurial Academy
The manufacturing companies in the region of Niles, Michigan are facing a crisis. According to a county report on the region, 51% of the manufacturing workforce is 45 years or older. Companies are already facing the challenge of filling positions that require essential skills like problem solving and collaboration. Enter Niles New Tech Entrepreneurial Academy. Located in Southwestern Michigan and part of a school-within-a-school model, Niles New Tech recognizes the challenges in the community and is working to make their students the solution. The academy joined New Tech Network (NTN) in 2010 and emphasizes the importance of developing essential skills to succeed in traditional and entrepreneurial business models. Niles New Tech does this by integrating students into real-world work experiences and connecting project-based learning with a community focus. The goal is to connect students with their strengths and passions early on, to build a better idea of what they’d like to pursue in the future.
“In New Tech schools, the students are connected with experts in the field, either virtually or in the school itself, including members of the community that can provide them with authentic working experiences,” says Jerry Holtgren, Director at Niles New Tech. “We’re sending them out the doors as juniors and seniors, to take vocational classes, dual enrollment courses, academic and CTE (Career and Technical Education) courses. We’re pushing them into the world a little bit, to see what careers are out there, and help them develop the skills needed for those careers.”
After receiving their diplomas, Holtgren is confident about students’ prospects for the future. “Students are now graduating prepared for life after graduation. They’re workforce ready.” One of the skills students develop through the NTN model is the ability to collaborate on group projects. One of the director’s proudest moments includes a case where he received a phone call from a professor at one of the local colleges, reporting that a former student of his was a participant in a group project, and immediately took a leadership role, delegated responsibilities and even implemented a group contract agreement. “The professor was so impressed, and I knew this was directly related to the skills this student had developed at our school.”
The NTN model’s proprietary assessment process that measures learning outcomes rather than test scores allows students to develop ownership over their education and become advocates for the path of their own future. “A number of our learners have gone on to start and work for non-profits,” reports Holtgren. “I love to see this high number of graduates impacting their communities in this way.”