U.S. high school celebrates grads going straight into the workforce with ‘signing day’

It’s known as “signing day,” a popular rite of passage for some student athletes in the United States. Come spring, seniors celebrate getting accepted into the university of college of their choice by posing for photos and sharing them on social media.

But for students who don’t go to college or university, they can often feel left out.

On Thursday, Virginia-based Henrico County Public Schools celebrated seniors heading to the workforce after high school, with an unofficial “Henrico Career and Technical Education Letter-of-Intent Signing Day.”

For the second year in a row, students were recognized in front of family and media for landing a job after high school.

“The concept mimics ceremonies that honour high school athletes as they gather in gyms to sign letters-of-intent to play for NCAA athletic programs,” the school district said in a Facebook post.

“Students and representatives of their future employers both signed letters-of-intent outlining what students must do before and during employment, what the employer will provide in pay and training, and an estimate of the position’s value.”

Students posed with their new employers on Thursday, some of them heading to local fire departments, electrical contractor businesses and car dealerships. And instead of being handed jerseys from sports teams, students were given work uniforms or company swag.

Speaking with Today.com in 2018, Mac Beaton, director of the region’s certified and technical education program, told the site the idea came to life after schools struggled to show the value of training-based education.

“We’re always trying to figure out how to address the skills gap when the general mentality of parents is, ‘I want my child to go to college,’” Beaton said in 2018.

“One way to do this is to help them see the value of career and technical education. When you start talking data that affects parents’ pocketbooks, that gets their attention.”

The program is meant to teach students several types of hands-on training, so by the time they graduate, they already have the skills to become employees.

“I wanted the students to see how the skills that they had been learning at school apply to the workforce and how they were going to use them,” Beaton said.

Supporting children who take this route

Dr. Jillian Roberts, a child psychologist at FamilySparks, told Global News parents should support children who want to explore a range of post-secondary options.

“I’m excited to see that there is recognition and support for all of the different paths a student can take upon graduating from high school,” she said. “I believe that it is, though, important that high school students graduate with a plan.”

She said while the plan doesn’t have to include college or university, parents should allow students to explore their career options and come up with a concrete route.

“Consider getting your child a career assessment in grade 11 or 12 to help narrow the options. Encourage your child to reach out to members of the community in different fields to see if they have time to meet for a coffee to discuss their career,” she continued.

Parents can also encourage students to check out job fairs or even take them to different technical skills-based workplaces to see how these roles work.

“Pick up brochures, make time to chat and have good, deep conversations after such events to help your child create their unique post-secondary plan.”

What this means for students

Early childhood consultant Julie Romanowski of Miss Behaviour said for some students, even graduating high school is a big accomplishment.

“Being able to enter the workforce is still a high privilege and deserves a celebration,” Romanowski told Global News. “Also, giving the opportunity for teens to practice life skills to be able to use to get a job is a huge victory, too.”

And recognition like this can do wonders for a child’s self-esteem.

“Celebrating anything helps an individual understand that they have a place in life, that they have importance and that they matter [is important],” she said.

“No one should feel shame because they aren’t able to or don’t want to go to college or university. Celebrations are a positive message that is understood both intellectually and emotionally.”

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