Monday, November 16, 2015

Beyond the Skills Gap: Education to Employment

Youth today are three times as likely as their parents to be out of work and for those that attend post-secondary college, unsure where their career pathway leads. One in four children live in poverty. Yet many employers can’t find people with the right entry-level skills to fill their jobs and many students are not aware of the needs of these employers. We have a gap between skills and jobs - over 5 million jobs remain unfilled in American (Schools That Can, 2015) because of the education to employment skills gap. How might we close this gap and prepare students to be college and career ready? Simply going to college doesn't solve the gap either. According to McKinsey (2015) half of youth are not sure that post-secondary education has improved their chances of finding a job and many young adults in America are moving back in with family due to looming college debt. We need to set students up for success earlier, while still in high school, where partners from all sectors can work together to advance school improvement. 

Exploring this challenge was the focus at the Schools that Can, Education to Employment (e2e) Symposium held at New York University School of Professional Studies. A group of innovators from all sectors (formal K12 education, support organizations, college and industry) met to discuss and design solutions to challenges at schools that address the e2e gap.

 A few of the main outcomes from the event: 
  • We have to do better, especially for underserved students and those facing poverty. Think of the e2e system as a highway, where three drivers: educators, employers, and young people all want to get to the same destination. At every point, each driver needs to take account of the others to keep moving safely and efficiently. Most research, however, shows that doesn’t usually happen. Instead, drivers don’t take one another into account, proceeding obliviously in their own lanes, or they collide, leaving everyone worse off than when they started.
  • All types of schools (public, charter, independent and independent faith-based) from Across the Northeast and Mid Atlantic share similar challenges and opportunities in closing the e2e gap within their schools and communities. We can't forget to build students' social emotional learning in addition to building career skills. 
  • Gathering diverse teams of stakeholders from all sectors (the drivers) together to identify and tackle precise challenges and design solutions can begin to close the gaps in the e2e pipeline. 
  • Active learning and authentic, hands-on experiences in high schools, where students may select career appropriate learning pathways sets youth on the right road to success. However according to recent research, only 24 percent of academic-program graduates and 37 percent of vocational graduates said that they spend most of their time in this manner.
  • Models of success do exist and its important to get word out about these models and use them as drivers of change and support for schools wanting to shift their programs and curriculum to support the e2e skills gap.  

The situation is not hopeless. Not only do many educators and employers accept that they need to be part of the solution, but many also have proved distinctly ingenious in filling in some of the potholes. It is to these innovations that we now think about replicating and scaling.Schools That Can (STC) connects leaders to share effective and innovative practices to drive improvement in urban schools and is a pivotal partner in this work. According to STC "Despite facing common challenges, schools serving high-need students often operate in silos, expending unnecessary energy working to reinvent the wheel. Success exists, but in isolation. As a result, we all pay the price, especially students who are completing high school ill-prepared for college and career." 

Image Courtesy of Schools That Can

After a morning setting context about the e2e situation in America, break-out teams used Design Thinking methods to tackle specific problems. After 4+ hours, break-out teams presented solutions to problems identified by session leaders. Dashboards to measure and support students in building Maker Education skills, connecting employers to students, using social media and building social emotional supports were some of the problems teams tackled. More of this work can help close the gap. Getting teams of like-minded and passionate innovators together can shift the gap for our students who are most vulnerable. While the journey from education to employment is a complicated one, and it is natural that there will be different routes. Schools That Can is leading a national conversation to reverse the challenges schools face appropriately preparing underserved young adults for post-secondary training and careers . It is true that too many young people are getting lost along the way. Moving forward there are two priorities: creating more successes and scaling them up to serve the millions of underserved youth who need them. 

What ideas do you have to connect youth to careers? How do we balance college preparation with career preparation? What models can you share that work?  Please comment below!


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