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Students as Professionals: Prepare Learners for the Global Workforce

The Economist calculates that almost a quarter of the planet's youth are not working nor studying. And yet, businesses and industries report they can't find enough skilled labor. How can education help plug this gap? My colleague Yi Zheng offers some thoughts.

By Yi Zheng

How to prepare your students for the global innovation age? The answers should be found in every classroom!

There is a lot of buzz in today’s society about preparing students for the global workforce, and educating them to be tomorrow’s innovators. As most schools in the country are working to align curriculum with the new Common Core State Standards, which focus on college and career readiness, it makes sense to explore what teachers might do right away to prepare students for the world of work. The difficult question facing teachers is how to make the connection between classroom experience and work environment, and at the same time make learning meaningful.

In order to prepare students for the global workforce, the acquisition of knowledge and substantive content is essential, but the process through which students gain and process that information is arguably far more important. By applying the same principles to students in classrooms as to employees in a professional environment, students will be more motivated and engaged in learning. The habits that students gain and develop during their learning in the classroom will translate directly to their professional experiences later in life.

In the business world, an organization’s achievement and performance can be attributed to its motivated, engaged and innovative employees; in this way, maintaining and enhancing employees’ job satisfaction is essential to success.

In 1976, Richard Hackman and Greg Oldham developed the job characteristics theory, which defined the relationship between job characteristics and an individual’s response to work. The job characteristics theory proposes that high motivation is related to experiencing three psychological states while working. These three psychological states are (1) knowledge of results, (2) meaningfulness of work, and (3) personal feelings of responsibility for results. Five core job characteristics directly influence these psychological states are:

  • Skill Variety: the degree to which a job requires a variety of different activities.
  • Task Identity: the degree to which the job requires completion of a whole and identifiable piece of work.
  • Task Significance: the degree to which the job has a substantial impact on the lives or work of other people.
  • Autonomy: the degree to which the job provides substantial freedom and discretion to the individual in scheduling the work and in determining the procedures to be used in carrying it out.
  • Feedback: the degree to which carrying out the work activities required by a job results in the individual obtaining direct and clear information about the effectiveness of his or her performance.

These same principles applied to the business world can also be relevant to classroom settings and can create a more optimal environment for student learning and achievement. Just as employers must set high and clear expectations for their employees, teachers should also have high and clear expectation for their students. Both employees and students must recognize their responsibilities. This experience will motivate students to be more engaged and help them to view school work and homework not as isolated learning experiences, or worse, as chores, but help them to connect to broader issues in the world. Through this process, students will feel more engaged, valued and important.

When teachers design homework and tasks for students, each of the five core job characteristics should be considered in order for students to have choices in their work and find meaning in the process of completing their work.

  • Skill Variety: Does the project ask students to choose their own method of presentation? For example, students should be encouraged to use their creativity and decide whether to use presentation, tables, charts, videos, film, speech, acting, or any other mode.
  • Task Identity: Is the project well designed; does it have a beginning and an end? Will the students have a chance to present their work, so they feel pride and a sense of ownership?
  • Task Significance: Does the project allow students to connect to real-life ideas or problems, so that they feel they are solving an important issue at hand one that concerns their community?
  • Autonomy: Are enough time and guidance given to the students, so that they can plan to work on teams and plan their own scheduling and meetings?
  • Feedback: Does the teacher create opportunities for students to share their work in order to get feedback from other students and also from the teacher?

When teachers design lesson plans or projects, think about these questions as a way to engage students and create opportunities and an environment that allows students to experience knowledge of results, meaningfulness of work, and personal feelings of responsibility for results. This effective learning process will help to motivate students’ learning, engage them in their work, and allow them to develop their critical thinking skills and prepare them to be the innovators of tomorrow.

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