Each spring, high school athletes sign “letters of intent” showing their commitment to play sports at college programs. Sometimes, when the colleges athletes will be attending and playing for are notable, i.e. Alabama, USC, Virginia Tech, or other FBS schools, the local media will gather and snap photos of the high school student and the coaches and parents beaming with pride.
These are undoubtedly life-changing moments, but only ones that a select few can enjoy. However, in Henrico County, Virginia, things are a little different, leading to the school system holding its own celebratory ceremony for high school seniors who are beginning careers right after graduation.
In late March, public school administrators in Henrico County held the “Career and Technical Letter-of-Intent Signing Day” to commemorate students with an, “eye on becoming successful and financially secure much earlier in life.”
The students met with representatives from their future places of employment and both parties signed letters which outlined the duties to be undertaken before and during employment. As well, they agreed upon terms including the stipulations of training, monetary and other compensation, and an “estimate” of the position’s overall value.
“Signing Day is a way of recognizing their hard work and the value of the career-preparation training they’ve received through Henrico Schools’ Career and Technical Education program,” Mac Beaton said, director of the program.
He said, “This is a celebration of students who are entering the workforce or post-secondary training with a plan.”
“They’ve chosen to maximize their high school opportunities for career training and industry certifications, with an eye on becoming successful and financially secure much earlier in life.”
Over 5,000 high school seniors earn earn industry-based certifications in Henrico County every year, often meaning a job immediately upon graduation. For this inaugural event, a dozen students were recognized as they signed letters of intent to work as apprentices or machinists for local and national companies.
Beaton said the idea for the recognition ceremony was rooted in a constant battle to show the importance of this kind of training. Typically, a four-year college degree is seen as the “high prize” after high school, but many are left with decades-worth of financial debt and struggle to gain a foothold in the job market immediately upon graduation.
“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 according to MNN.
“One way to do this is to help them see the value of career and technical education,” he said. “When you start talking data that affects parents’ pocketbooks, that gets their attention.”
In reference to garnering attention, the event was a huge hit on social media, with people praising the efforts to highlight students building successful, financially secure lives early.
The optics of the event were just like traditional signing events for soon-to-be college athletes. Families and local media outlets were there snapping pictures as the students signed letters of intent and wore hats and clothing representing the companies they would soon work for.
In the report, people on Facebook commented:
“This is the best thing I’ve seen in years,” wrote Catherine DeAngelis. “It’s about time we celebrate the skilled workforce. We need to do that here, people need to see how important these students really are.”
“College isn’t for everyone, so this is a wonderful way to support those who train vocationally for the workforce,” wrote Jean Mayo Campbell. “Maybe other districts will embrace this.”
The event also got a star-studded media bump as blue-collar “Dirty Jobs” host Mike Rowe shared Henrico County’s post on his own Facebook page, commenting, “This is the way forward. No attempt to close the skills gap will ever succeed, until or unless we celebrate those who are willing to learn a skill that’s in demand. This is not just a terrific idea, it’s a model for every other technical school in the country…Here’s hoping others will follow Henrico’s lead.”