In a time when college costs are soaring, student debt is at a critical level and businesses are competing for qualified employees, the South-Western City School District is answering these needs with pathway-ready skills that connect a student's interests, job demand and the skills necessary for success.

As early as seventh grade, students are connected to information-technology skills and careers through a digital communications course and a mobile-app development course.

As high school students, they can pursue Intro to IT and Network Security and Programming Fundamentals leading to career programs in Mobile App Development with a Swift language certificate, Cyber Security with CompTIA fundamentals and CompTIA Security + credentials or Interactive Media Design with multiple Adobe credentials and Software Development, as well as 32 college credits.

All options lead to in-demand careers and options after high school at no cost to the student and their family. The return on investment is significant, saving thousands of dollars in college costs and, when coupled with the credentials earned, direct entry into a career field with the average starting salary of approximately $50,000 in central Ohio.

Students interested in pursuing a career in healthcare have introductions to careers in the middle grades through a strength and fitness course. As South-Western students, they can pursue their science interests in a variety of curricular offerings leading to five different career paths.

These paths include a State Tested Nurse Assistant, Pharmacy Technician, Clinical Lab Technician, Ohio Certified Dental Assistant, and Dental Assistant Radiographer certificate. Nurse assistants, dental assistants and multi-skilled medical assistants are three of the top in-demand careers in central Ohio. All of these entry-level credentials lead to multiple career options with an entry-level salary of approximately $30,000 per year, but also meet the criteria and prerequisites for nursing school and post-secondary degree programs.

The investment and pathway to careers in science, technology and engineering begin in the middle grades with the gateway to engineering program.

Students have the option to further explore science and math concepts in pre-engineering and engineering design, which lead to multiple career programs with credentials such as FANUC robotics certification, ASE certifications, electrical trades pre-apprenticeship, I-CAR collision credentials and American Welding Society certifications.

All of these programs and certifications align with career options in manufacturing, engineering and transportation. These in-demand careers start at an entry-level salary of approximately $36,000 per year with a direct alignment to post-secondary options leading to careers.

With the growth of business segments in central Ohio and the alignment of middle grades and high school entrepreneurship and business electives with this growth, our senior students now have the opportunity to earn an entry-level certificate in either customer service or bilingual customer service. As a high school graduate, students have the opportunity to begin their career with an average starting salary of approximately $35,000 per year with full benefits, the potential for tuition reimbursement and a connection to healthcare, finance, insurance and business-service careers.

In the South-Western City School District, our return on investment begins with students knowing who they are, what courses and electives are available to them and how to connect to the next step through a credential, license and skill that aligns to a successful career. Education for the Real World is our Business.

Amy Schakat is the coordinator of career-technical education for the South-Western City School District.