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Bridge the Skills Gap

London. Morocco. Spain. These are just a few places where youth have taken to the streets in large numbers to protest their unemployment. The soaring rates have become a big concern, not just for the unemployed, but for governments as they struggle to stabilize and grow economies. Recently, a conference and a new report takes aim at this issue. My colleague Heather Singmaster reports.

By Heather Singmaster

There are 75 million unemployed youth worldwide, and yet, businesses are struggling to fill vacant positions. Why? There's a skills gap. The skills businesses need are not supplied by education systems. Education systems, conversely, disagree.

The question facing us how we fix this.

Two weeks ago I attended the ACTE CareerTech VISION 2012 conference in Atlanta. The opening session dealt with this very topic.

The panel consisted of business leaders as well as two state superintendents of education. All panelists agreed that the U.S. education system is not preparing our students for the workplace, and listed the skills that students are missing (none of which will come as a surprise to readers of this blog as these are all part of global competence): lifelong learning, team work, collaboration, agility, problem solving, ability to apply what has been learned, etc. Superintendent Randy Dorn of Washington state State spoke passionately on the point that our education system is preparing students for college but not careers. Raymond McNaulty, Chief Learning Officer at Penn Foster agreed, advocating that we throw out the term "college ready" and vow to use the term "career ready." After all, isn't college preparing our students for careers?

A new report, Education to Employment: Designing a System That Works, released this week by McKinsey, backs up the panel's recommendations. The report found that employers, education providers, and youth live in parallel universes; they have very different understandings of job requirements.

In the most effective education programs around the world, education providers and employers are engaged and working together: "Employers might help to design curricula and offer their employees as faculty, for example, while education providers may have students spend half their time on a job site and secure them hiring guarantees," the report states.

Back to the panel at ACTE, Georgia was highlighted an example of how this might look in the United States. Starting in fall 2013, all Georgia high school students will have to choose a career pathway. The state has set up advisory committees for each career pathway with a mix of educators and business representatives. Local company Lockheed Martin has a big stake in Georgia graduates—they must rely on U.S. talent for security clearance reasons, unlike some companies that can look beyond our borders to hire for science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) careers. Shan Cooper, vice president at Lockheed Martin Aeronautics, invited Georgia Superintendent John Barge to visit their plant and showed him what she needs in employees. They have continued this conversation, working together to help students understand the importance of STEM career and the applications there are for STEM education. She has found that simulations—such as flight simulators—help tremendously on this front, allowing students a different way of learning. Siemens is another company that has partnered with the state, providing free curriculum for Georgia classrooms.

Education has always been a key driver of economic growth. In some countries, such as Singapore, the government works hard to match the supply of skills with the demand of the industry and workforce, particularly when businesses and the school systems could not do it themselves. Whether a state or a nation state, governments facilitating these types of partnerships will prove to be key to closing the skills gap and having a successful workforce.

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