For quite some time, we have heard how the U.S. will not maintain its standing as an international leader if our high school dropout rates, college attrition figures, unemployment numbers—you get the picture—continue to be a cause for concern.
The statistics are terrifying and yet some have retreated from reforms that could put us on the right path to long-term economic stability.
There are a few key actions our nation should take to create a more competitive workforce—critical to our success is the willingness of the employer community to communicate its needs and continue to be an active participant in reforming our education and workforce training systems.
1. Embrace high academic standards (and the assessments that measure those standards)
Implementing high standards successfully is critical to academic gains in our K–12 system. For too long, many states had low standards where students who received A’s in high school went to college unprepared.
The introduction of the Common Core State Standards allowed for all students to have the foundational skills necessary to succeed from one grade level to the next. However, those standards are under attack as political tensions and misconceptions have mired what the standards really are.
The business community has been a staunch supporter of these more rigorous, college- and career-ready standards that better prepare students for their futures. Corporate leaders and state and local chambers across the country have led the way in making the case for the importance of high standards and their linkage to greater economic development. This work, though challenging, must continue.
2. Make work-based learning experiences central to education
Many students are either unfamiliar with the industry opportunities available to them (how many CSI investigators could one country possibly need?) or don’t see the connection between what they learn in school and what they need to know to be an enviable job candidate.
It is up to education and business leaders to collaboratively apply creative solutions to integrate basic workforce principles into the educational experience. Doing so will help students realize their potential and discover career opportunities. Examples of successful models include mentoring programs, apprenticeships integrated into curriculum, and guidance/career counselor industry tours.
3. Focus on outcomes when engaging in education-workforce partnerships
Education and business partnerships often lack clear expectations and benchmarks for success from each stakeholder. Partners need to do a better job of focusing on outcomes and deciding early on how those outcomes will be measured and built upon over time.
When the excitement of a new initiative wears off, business partners need to remain engaged with an eye on the long-term goals. Designating a staff member to be the liaison and scorekeeper is an important step to consider. Committing to a long-term partnership can be challenging but is more likely to result in systemic improvements rather than one-off projects.
Businesses large and small have suffered the consequences of an unprepared or underprepared workforce. If the U.S. continues to lag behind in educational achievement and attainment—while other countries see incredible gains—we will look back with regret.
The time is now to believe in our students, our teachers, and our community leaders—without the support of the business community, these efforts will be trounced by politics and misinformation. There is too much at stake to stand silently on the sidelines.