New partnership shines spotlight on Linked Learning’s potential

When most people think about employment opportunities available at large grocery or clothing chains, they probably envision minimum-wage jobs such as cashiers, sackers, stockers, or parking lot attendants who collect abandoned shopping carts.

But a new partnership between HISD’s Career and Technical Education department, the University of Houston Downtown (UH-D), and various big-box stores is looking to change that misconception, and in the process, create a steady stream of high-school students poised for high-paying careers in retail management.

“This type of partnership does exactly what we want,” said Michael Webster, HISD’s assistant superintendent of career readiness. “It’s giving kids access to real-life situations. The idea is that within two to four years of graduation, they will be in a managerial role, and a typical manager at one of these stores makes $125- to $150,000 a year.”

The new partnership came about when Tracy Davis, director of the Center for Retail Management at UH-D, approached Webster in 2012 with the idea of creating a pipeline for students into that industry. The first big retailer to step up was Walmart, and it has been working closely with juniors at Scarborough High School this year to teach them the ins and outs of its operations. Plans are already underway to forge similar arrangements between Austin High School and Kroger, Madison High School and the Stages Company (which manages Palais Royal and Bealls, among others), and Westbury High School and TJ Maxx.

“This is one of the most exciting programs I’ve ever been involved in,” said Davis. “It’s exposing students to what retail is all about. I have retailers coming to me every day asking if I know anybody who can fill these positions. There are thousands of unfilled retail management positions right now, and these positions pay good money. Making $100,000 plus is not abnormal, and these kids can make $45,000 as assistant managers right out of high school.”

“This type of partnership is so valuable for our kids as we move into the Linked Learning model,” said Scarborough High School Principal Jason Catchings. “We’re bringing real-world experiences and rigorous academics to a high-school setting, so these kids are going to be two, maybe three years ahead of their peers when they graduate. They will already be coming into the job market with a skill set and understand what it means to manage a multimillion-dollar store. That’s what a school is supposed to do—prepare kids for either college or career—and that’s what we’re doing.”

The district hopes to add a dual-credit component to the partnership in the near future, which would allow participating students to receive college credit for the work they do in high school.

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