MAXX Potential

Upcoming work-based learning conferences

Ready to travel? CTE conferences we are looking forward to.

By Rob Simms

MAXX Conference Swag

It’s conference time and we are hitting the road. We’ve put together a list of some of the events we are interested in and are happy to share them with you. Hope to see you at one of them!

April 28-29, Salt Lake City, UT, ACTE Work-Based Learning Conference

This is the ACTE National Work-Based Learning Conference. Here you will make connections, share ideas and work together to build programs that will shape the future of education and the world.

May 5-6, 2022 Albany, NY, WECA Conference

For educators in New York State, this work-based learning conference returns from a pandemic hiatus.

May 9-12, Savannah, GA, 41st Annual Conference

The National Association for Career Technical Education Information (NACTEI) is proud to host a National Perkins Leadership Conference for 2022. Plan to attend to receive policy and legislative updates from national and state CTE leaders, contribute to national work group discussions, and discover “best practices” in CTE.

The annual conference co-hosted by the NCLA and the Administration Division of the Association for Career and Technical Education® (ACTE®) focuses on professional development for administrators of secondary and post-secondary career and technical education programs and institutions.

Nov 30 – Dec 3, Las Vegas, NV, ACTE CareerTech Vision Conference

This is the annual national CTE Vision conference from ACTE. Experience unparalleled networking and professional development, covering high-quality secondary and postsecondary CTE


Bookmark this page and check back in once in a while as we’ll be updating it as the year progresses.

Takeaways from SXSW EDU

Accidental acceleration; Learning / working in the Metaverse; Soft durable power; Texas BBQ

By Rob Simms


With SXSW EDU a wrap we share some of the good stuff we walked away with including: something positive out of the pandemic, the future of technology and work, and the most essential skills necessary to succeed in that future. Of course, we also talk about our new favorite Texas BBQ.

Accidental acceleration

Up first is a remark from one of the last sessions called “Reimagining the Learn-to-Work Ecosystem” where Monique Umphrey observed that the acceleration of technology use (in schools and in workplaces) caused by the pandemic is “…the unique opportunity of our time.” With more than $40 billion in HEERF funds and $122 billion in ESSER funds deployed by the federal government over the last 2 years, she isn’t kidding. 

For example, US K-12 public schools went from roughly two-thirds of students having a dedicated digital device to more than 90%. That technology, when used well, can be a powerful accelerator even if it was “by accident”. Think of the ability of students to learn-by-doing in areas of software development, data analytics and cybersecurity – much of which can be learned via resources freely available online. Before 2020, only the students fortunate to be in the right schools had that opportunity. Now over 13 million more students have the basic tools to access a career pathway in IT. Put more simply in another late session: two years of Covid-19 pushed education and work forward by 10 years.

How does this play out for the kids? How about the more than 36 million cybersecurity jobs alone coming online in the next decade? Now add to that 72% of CEO’s surveyed by PwC worried about workforce skill gaps today. The opportunity for current students is clear.

Learning and working in the Metaverse

The convergence of 3D virtual worlds, blockchain and NFT’s in what is widely regarded as the “Metaverse” or “Web 3.0” were topics in some more sessions on the last day. Think of students experiencing heretofore impossible scenarios like walking around a volcano or on the deck of a Viking ship. At the same time workers will be able to “do” physical tasks virtually and safely in a training environment before taking it to “IRL”. We can imagine that training through immersive simulations will soon be coming to the classroom. What if your 4th period was an “internship” working in the IT department at a company which exists only in the Metaverse?

Web 3.0 pundits say it will also be a place where some of the jobs yet defined will be creators of these environments: virtual world building. Students using the technology recently unleashed by the pandemic as noted above now have the chance to be a part of this emerging future. They will use the technology of advanced game simulation engines like Unreal and Unity. How many jobs will this be over the next 10 years? Let the forecasting begin.

Soft durable power

What skills will be needed to harness the tech and get those jobs? Programming Java? How about…

  • Collaboration
  • Curiosity
  • Communication
  • Problem Solving

Panelists in the “Meta Opportunities and Meta Challenges” session cited these key “power skills” needed by Web 3.0 workers. Look familiar? They are the same “soft skills” which define success for IT workers today – whether entry level or experienced professional. On day zero of this conference we encountered yet another term for this: “durable skills”. We think this is the most accurate term used to describe those critical skills which stand the test of time as technology and fads come and go. It’s no wonder that our apprentices, and everyone at MAXX, lives these skills every day.

Texas BBQ

And finally, thanks to John, our resident BBQ connoisseur, we made our way to Terry Black’s Barbecue – a new favorite. Hope we’ll see you there during SXSW EDU 2023.

The numbers are in…

Gen Z career surveys; middle school exploration; cyber jobs

By Rob Simms

After our second day at SXSW EDU we are gathering up some data and starting to see some themes: the viability of the non-college career pathway, early career exploration, and durable skills everywhere. Let’s dive into some newly released (like today) research data and connect the dots.

The survey says…

The results of a recent landmark study about high-quality non-college career pathways was released at the conference today. The upshot of the study is that while people believe non-degree pathways to good careers are worth considering, risk aversion and lack of opportunity awareness inhibit action. Specifically:

  • 68% of employers and 58% of Gen Z believe companies should hire candidates from non-degree pathways
  • 54% of employers and 65% of Gen Z believe non-degree pathways pose more risk
  • 80% of employers and 72% of Gen Z believe they need more information about non-degree opportunities

Shocking? No. But even as the ink is drying on the official report (soon to be published), everyone is trying to figure out how to solve for the risk and information challenges it suggests. Thankfully, there are some proven models.

At MAXX, our model for apprentices (the post-graduate opportunity for your students) is a 2-sided market: apprentice and client. Not only is it a market driven model, it’s a self-sustaining model. It sustains as long as we are serving both sides of the model: apprentices are getting great jobs and clients are getting great value. It sustains when we are filling a market need.

The middle school connection

Back in Virginia Beach, Virginia where our team just wrapped up a two-day Career Lab with 30 middle school students, we start to see the connections between the model and how it meets the challenges cited in the research. In Virginia Beach the students were exploring IT careers with hands-on activities and an understanding of the durable skills required to succeed. With this immersive experience, they will have the opportunity and the information necessary to craft a high school experience to maximize their preparedness for a future in tech, should they choose that path. During the session in which the survey results were discussed, Jean Eddy, CEO of American Student Assistance (ASA) said it best: “Middle school is the right time to let kids know what the options are to them.”

Once in high school, part of their preparation might include an immersive IT Work Simulation where students take on job roles and titles in an intense and focused simulation of an Enterprise IT department of a fictitious company. Students emerge with a newfound appreciation for what it really takes to collaborate, problem solve, meet deadlines and get things done in a professional environment.

Students emerging from high school having prepared for a career in tech since middle school will be much more informed and more likely to succeed as an apprentice candidate and have confidence in their future. And when a candidate becomes an apprentice, our clients understand their risk concerns are mitigated through the MAXX process.


About those jobs and those durable skills

This all matters because, according to one panelist today, there will be 36 million cybersecurity jobs over the next decade. That’s just cybersecurity, one aspect of IT which also includes software development, data, systems, quality assurance, etc. On the same panel, another speaker was almost pounding his armrest “…to succeed, people need the durable skills which will allow them to learn the technical skills”. 

This last point puts a final note on how MAXX de-risks apprentices in the workplace. Our focus on those durable skills allows our apprentices to succeed, no matter what kind of curveball gets thrown at them. 

So while the research study data is new, the problems are not. At MAXX we’ve been refining the solutions for more than a decade. For the past four years that solution also includes our work with schools to help their students understand their options and build confidence in the future.


Durable Skills meet the World of Work

Impressions from the first day of SXSW EDU 2022

By Rob Simms

Austin, TX skyline

Following our first day at SXSW EDU, Tucker, John and I reflect on “durable skills”, the World of Work curriculum, and a school district where students start career exploration in Kindergarten.

Durable skills

Walking along the Austin skyline during our first evening at SXSW EDU, Tucker brought up his interest in a newfound term: “durable skills”. And while it’s new to us, the concept isn’t. Durable skills are in alignment with what most of us refer to as “soft skills” we at MAXX know are core to the success of our apprentices. This includes personal traits like collaboration and perseverance which are hard to truly measure from a resume or job interview. It’s no wonder students who show signs of these same traits also tend to be the most successful. These are also the skills you carry throughout your career, even as technology changes. So while technology comes and goes; it’s your durable skills which stay with you and allow you to meet new challenges time and again.

We love it.

The next generation of work-based learning

As dozens of conference attendees visited us on the expo floor, you could see their eyes light up when they heard about what we mean when we talk about the Next Generation of Work-Based Learning. This includes:  

  • Universal agreement those durable skills are key drivers of success
  • A recognition of the value of a hassle-free and high quality immersive internship experience
  • A sense of wonder when they understood graduates could apply for our apprenticeship program and get their first full-time paid IT job straight out of school

Where kindergarten students explore careers

During the last session I attended, the forward thinking superintendent of Cajon Valley Union School District guided us through the journey his district was making as it incorporates the World of Work into the wider curriculum. Looking deeper into this approach, we see a crossover with durable skills (e.g. problem solving) and the core elements of preparing for careers: exploration and simulation. These are fundamental tenets of the work-based learning programs MAXX delivers in schools today (Career Lab and Work Simulator). Here are a few other interesting takeaways from that session:

  • Career exploration starts in Kindergarten and continues through every grade level. This helps students connect their learning to possible future work – making what they learn in school more relevant in the process.
  • Students spend about 6 hours / day on their devices – aside from school. While managing screen time down may be desirable, we should also think about meeting students where they are.
  • Meeting students where they are means learning how to harness the digital channels and the social media outlets they use today and will be using tomorrow.


For places like Cajon Valley where today 70% of students qualify for free and reduced lunch, we see how supporting programs like World of Work with things like the MAXX Career Lab, Work Simulator and Apprenticeship could have a profound impact on the students, employers and community. 

We call that a win-win-win-win.