This story is part of the RoundTable’s series on workforce development.

By the time they graduate, Evanston Township High School students should be prepared for – and passionate about – their future, administrators say.

Pete Bavis, Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction, and Shelley Gates, Chair of the Career and Technical Education Department at ETHS, say the high school offers courses and pathways that will open doors for their graduates, not foreclose them from future opportunities.

While some high schools separate their education tracks into “college” or “career,” administrators at Evanston Township High School say they prefer the unifier “and,” Dr. Gates and Dr. Bavis told the RoundTable.

The State of Illinois and the federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act require high schools to show they are preparing students for post-high-school life, whether it involve immediate employment, an apprenticeship or enrollment in a college or a certification program. 

Evanston resident Neil Gambow said, however, he sees a “disconnect” between the needs of local employers and the employee pool of ETHS graduates who do not go directly to college. For more than a year, he has been working to connect these graduates to apprenticeships or entry-level jobs that have potential for advancement.

Mr. Gambow is head of the Mayor’s Business Advisory Council (MBAC), a group of business people in Evanston that looks at workforce development here.

 “We want to align ETHS and the Evanston employer pool – with students who don’t go to college. … Maybe college isn’t for everybody,” he said.

Change in Vocabulary, Change in Viewpoint?

For too long the term “vocational” has had a mediocre connotation, said Mr. Gambow. He would like to change that perception by having schools replace “vocational” with “career” in the descriptions of many of the options available to their students. He would also like to see “career” elevated to the status of “college” when students are looking at post-high school options. He would further like to see a climate change at the high school, and maybe at School District 65 as well, so students will be looking at a lot of “career options” that do not require a four-year college education.

A vocabulary shift could be the precursor to the climate change he seeks – replacing “job” with “career” and “vocational” with “opportunity.”

“‘Vocational training’ has a second-class connotation,” Mr. Gambow says. “There are many good careers out there, to the point where college is now an option. … A career is what you sink your enthusiasm into – for a long-term relationship for what you want to do,” he says.

Entry-Level Jobs  But Only on a Career Ladder

Earlier this year, Mr. Gambow brought ETHS representatives to a meeting of the MBAC, so the high school officials could understand the opportunities available to their non-college-bound students.

ETHS administrators later visited some local businesses to learn about their entry-level positions that do not require a college degree.

Dr. Bavis said he had a “non-negotiable” in mind as he prepared for the visit – that ETHS would promote only jobs that were rungs on a career ladder. “That was absolutely necessary for me – we didn’t want somebody stuck in an entry-level position. … They have to have a clear, articulated career ladder.”

Dr. Gates said many entry-level positions at Evanston Hospital have potential for career advancement. “What was the most interesting thing to me is so many of these positions really need people, and once you get in at the entry level, the hospital will pay for you to continue your education. So you’re going up a career ladder within health care without having to go to a four-year college and then coming in after graduation. You can start in any one of these jobs and [the hospital] will pay for you to continue your education. They will pay for the education that you need, as opposed to someone paying for it and then trying to find a job.”

Evanston Hospital has a state-of-the-art medical lab. “Basically you can start out as a research assistant and you can come up through coursework that’s sometimes offered at the hospital. And they may pay for you to go to classes outside of the hospital,” Dr. Gates said.

Dr. Bavis said some careers are built on “stackable credentials,” such as certification or an associate’s degree – “like being a pharmacy tech to pay for college to become a pharmacist or taking fire safety classes at Oakton Community College and then going on to be a paramedic.” 

Knowing about an industry can open the eyes of a high school student. “You visited a bank and you saw that there’s a commercial side of the house and a retail side of the house, and you didn’t even know that. Your idea of banker was a teller,” Dr. Bavis said.

Learning about the value of information technology (IT) to the auto industry is another eye-opener, said Mr. Gambow. “There are non-college careers at S&C Electric and Autobarn. BMW and Mercedes S class do all their IT in Chicago. Kids have to understand cars and IT,” he said.

Dr. Bavis and Dr. Gates appear enthusiastic about the potential for ETHS students who are not immediately college bound to find a path to a well paying career.

One thing they are still working on, they said, is “What do we at ETHS think a quality workplace learning experience is?”


Mr. Gambow said apprenticeships are available in some fields through the German-American Chamber of Commerce. The Industry Consortium for Advanced Technical Training (ICATT) has a five-year program consisting of paid apprenticeships and a two-year Oakton Community College degree, followed by a job that begins at $46,000 per year, he said.

“Manufacturing is another career where the entry point can be at any level – right out of high school, an associate’s degree or a bachelor’s degree,” Dr. Bavis said.

Ward Manufacturing, 2222 Main St., also offers apprenticeships to qualified ETHS graduates, he said.

Oakton Community College and ETHS

Through courses at the high school, ETHS students can earn dual credit with Oakton Community College, become certified in several areas or take a math class that will allow them to start at Oakton on the freshman, rather than the remedial, level.

Students in certain public service classes at the high school will also earn credit at Oakton, where they can pursue a career in fire science or law, said Dr. Bavis.

Students planning to go to Oakton whose math is not up to par can take Oakton’s remedial math class while they are still at ETHS.

“We brought the non-credit math class here, because we knew that math was an issue. The non-credit-bearing math class is required for associate’s degree and certification. If a kid has taken algebra, geometry, algebra 2 and struggles – we know they’re not set up for calculus. They can take the course here for high school credit and then go into Oakton and take credit-bearing math. … That’s a barrier – you foreclose your opportunities if you can’t take math.”

Dr. Gates said students in the Geometry in Construction class can earn OSHA 10-hour certification. Other opportunities are Pharmacy Technician Certification, Gateways to Opportunity Level 1 Early Care and Education (ECE) Certification, Automotive Service Excellence Student Certification and ServSafe Food Handler and Food Manager Certification, she said. 

“We’re hoping that Oakton Community College will offer more certification degrees,” Dr. Gates said.

Four of the nine Oakton trustees are from Evanston, something that could help the college focus on the needs of ETHS and the Evanston community.

 The Evanston Township High School Pathways Programs of Study Guide, prepared by and available through the school’s Student Services Department, is designed to help students negotiate the high school’s rich choices with a realistic eye on the future.

The guide is a matrix of courses – required, recommended and elective – as well as suggested activities for students to consider in choosing their coursework at the high school and planning for their future. The introduction reads in part, “Whether an ETHS student is preparing to attend a four-year university, a two-year college, trade school, the military, apprenticeship or the workforce, the exploration of possible career pathways is vital. Though many … students may continue to change their minds about their career pathway interests, it is valuable … to explore multiple areas while still in high school to assist in the decision about where their skills and passions exist.”

The guide aligns with the National Career Clusters Framework, with grids showing classes to take in preparation for a career in 16 areas: agriculture, food and natural resources; architecture and construction; arts, A/V technology and communications; business management and administration; education and training; finance; government and public administration; health sciences; hospitality and tourism; human services; information technology; law, public safety, corrections and security; manufacturing; marketing; science, technology, engineering and mathematics; and transportation, distribution and logistics.

A student wishing to pursue a career in a certain cluster would be encouraged to take “pathway coursework” and “pathway electives” as part of his or her academic career. Almost all clusters include four years of English, three years of math, three years of history/social sciences, four years of physical education two years of a world language elective and a consumer education elective.

One cluster, as an example is “Business, Marketing, Management, & Finance.” Pathway courses in this career track include Personal Finance & Careers in Business Management (in year 1), Marketing in Sports and Entertainment or Entrepreneurship and Business Management (in year 2), Accounting or Business Law (in year 3) and a business practicum in year 4.

Students can choose from at least 13 pathway electives in such fields as entrepreneurship, culinary, art, fashion and engineering design with an academic range of “introduction” (as in Introduction to Programing or Introduction to Fashion) to AP (AP Psychology) with a range of courses in between: Art, Principles of Debate and Statistics, as examples. The guidebook also recommends an array of clubs and activities such as student council, Chromezone, math team, debate team, the Minority Student Achievement Network, Girls Who Code, Cultural Clubs, Community Services and internships.

Career options for this course of study are those that require a bachelor’s degree or higher: event planner, accountant/CPA, human resources director, project manager/consultant, sports marketing account executive/manager and investment banker. Suggested college or university majors include accounting, economics, international business, finance, sports marketing/management and marketing/advertising.

Careers requiring an associate’s, or two-year, degree include human resources management, business administration, accounting associate and entrepreneurship. An industry credential will open doors for a future as a certified financial analyst, planner or manager; certification in transportation and logistics and public accounting, among others, and careers in accounting, bookkeeping, and project management, as examples.

High school officials have said they do not want any student foreclosed from post-secondary education because of lack of academic preparation. Post-secondary planning is essential regardless of what career arc the student ultimately chooses.

A vice president for academic affairs at an out-of-state community college told this writer, “Even certification requires college study. Community college is for everyone.”

Mary Gavin is the founder of the Evanston RoundTable. After 23 years as its publisher and manager, she helped transition the RoundTable to nonprofit status in 2021. She continues to write, edit, mentor...