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Who Is Really Responsible for Preparing Students for Careers?

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This is the second part of a  two-part post about college and career readiness.  Today's focus is on preparedness for career. Thursday's post focused on college readiness.

How much do educators know and understand about creating graduates who are career ready? What are the skills and knowledge students need for a career over the next forty years? Are our minds full of traditional careers and not thinking about the careers that today's students will be entering? The issue of career ready is one that applies to all students. College is not an end in itself ... at least for most of us. Georgetown University's Center for Education and the Workforce reports that by 2020, three years from now, two thirds of all jobs in this country will require college or post-secondary training of some sort. Most students, we hope, will obtain college degrees but all students should be thinking and preparing for careers.

What Careers Are We Preparing Students For?

To successfully prepare students for careers, educators must be scanners of the economy and alert to shifts in the business world. They must think how those changes might cause us to adjust curriculum. Consider this. Three recent announcements in the world of business underscored the changes at our doorstep. One was that major department stores were closing in malls across the country. The retail industry has been one local employer for high school graduates. Another was that Amazon bought Whole Foods. The mail order food business is on a roll. The market for prepared foods, fresh and frozen, delivered to your door at affordable prices diminishes the supermarket as an employer. Another evolution in the food market is an online food company called Brandless™ based in San Francisco and Minneapolis. It came to life on July 11, 2017 and adds to the trend of warehouses replacing stores. 

We're a group of thinkers, eaters, doers, and lovers of life with big dreams about changing the world. Our mission is deeply rooted in quality, transparency, and community-driven values. Better stuff, fewer dollars. It's that simple (Brandless.com)

While the local retail market shrinks, the delivery companies will grow.  USPS, UPS, and FedEx will need more drivers, sorters, carriers, and the systems they use will have to become faster and continue to grow and develop. But, it is anticipated that this is a short term employment as drones will take over part of that delivery field. All industries are changing.

Can Graduates Be Prepared?

Of those who enter careers after high school, some of them hope to open their own businesses. They become the small business owners who sustain communities everywhere. Increasing numbers of vocational programs across the country allow graduates to exit with industry certifications. Programs offered no longer just include the traditional programs in cosmetology, food services, auto repair or nursing and heavy equipment operation. Now, high school students in these programs are learning digital design, airplane mechanics, alternative energy, criminal justice, gaming, fashion design and STEM programs. Many of these graduates will go directly into the workforce as a result of on the job training and apprenticeships but a large number will continue their education after high school as well. They need to be skilled at reading and creating contracts, knowing how to work with others, supervise others, dealing with customers and regulations, and make difficult decisions.  Vocational educators often have program advisors comprised of practitioners in the field who help them keep courses forward looking and in pace with changes in the field. This might be a good idea for all educators.      

How do new roles and changing dimensions of traditional roles affect what high school graduates need to know and be able to do in order to be prepared for their careers at 18 years of age? How does that affect the manner in which all students are taught? It isn't an issue only in their high school years; it matters in all thirteen.  In some recent conversations with high school educators, it was evident that the focus on subject success and graduation rates still rule the day. Accountability is responsible for that. It is easier to measure how well students do on a test or how many of them are successful in the subjects required to graduate. But schools still are struggling with how to prepare all students for careers, especially when we cannot predict what those careers will demand or even be. 

Preparation for On The Job Training

On the job training will take on an even greater role as new jobs emerge. Are our graduates prepared to learn and learn well, with their livelihoods depending on it as their roles as employees or business owners grow and change? It should be no surprise that we will emphasize here that business partnerships are essential. Even before bringing businesses into schools to work with students, helping teachers and their leaders understand what is happening in the world of work that students will be entering is essential to driving the changes schools will make. Before creating an environment that produces graduates who can succeed in a world centered on design thinking, design thinking has to take hold in schools. Here is one definition:

Design thinking drives the work of the 21st century. Design thinking utilizes elements from the designer's toolkit like empathy and experimentation to arrive at innovative solutions. By using design thinking, you make decisions based on what future customers really want instead of relying only on historical data or making risky bets based on instinct instead of evidence. (IDEOU)

Preparation for College & Career is Similar 

Strategies to improve the graduation rate may no longer work if career readiness becomes a priority. This isn't about vocational education for all but think about those conversations students have with counselors about their futures. They are formative in the course choices students make and in the breadth of perspective students have about what career is possible for them. This is a call for shifting school practice into one that prepares all students for a world of work in which careers may change and in which many careers these students will discover are now unknown. So, we teach them how to be continual learners, acquire new information, transfer knowledge from one arena to another, be creative, think critically, collaborate and communicate well. 

Preparing graduates for the world of work is now more similar to preparing students for college than before. The skills that develop into the talents for success in the world of work, with or without a college degree, are the same. Project and problem based learning holds the key to success in both arenas. Business partners are essential in that endeavor. Preparing students for college and career can be interwoven from the early years until graduation.  

We need educators who are conversant in the reality of the workplace. We need counselors and teachers who open doors rather than limit options, we need business partners and we need a curriculum which includes workplace skills with an equal value to academic ones. But, most of all we need schools to embrace design thinking for themselves. The environment we need to create is this one:

A set of principles collectively known as design thinking--empathy with users, a discipline of prototyping, and tolerance for failure chief among them--is the best tool we have for creating ... and developing a responsive, flexible organizational culture (Harvard Business Review).

Ann Myers and Jill Berkowicz are the authors of The STEM Shift (2015, Corwin) a book about leading the shift into 21st century schools.  Ann and Jill welcome connecting through Twitter & Email.

Photo courtesy of Pixaby 

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