Do schools prepare students for jobs?
Monday, April 13, 2015
A recent survey conducted by the Association of American Colleges and Universities (AACU) reveals that there is a huge gap between student readiness and what employers want. While students are thinking they are well prepared to face the future, employers are seriously concerned about their lack of skills and the amount of time they have to spend training their new recruits.
For most students, the real world is quite a shocker when they step out of school, and this has hardly been any help in a tough economy that plagued us for the past few years. Yet, as the economy shows signs of recovery, employers are showing even more cautiousness in their hiring decisions.
In such a scenario, it has become even more imperative for schools to sit up and take notice. They need to review their existing curriculum and update their courses to help make their students more industry-ready.
A deeper look into the survey might be of some help in this regard. The survey chart points out specific areas where students feel confidently prepared and employers feel the exact opposite. These include oral and written communication, critical thinking, analytic reasoning, creativity and originality.
The only areas on which they both agree include new technology. But, here too, only 37 percent of employers agree compared to the 46 percent of students who think they can handle the challenges.
However, this does not mean that American schools are doing nothing for their students' future. Even before the survey results came out, there have been growing concerns about the knowledge gap and increasing demands to manage it.
While a key educational focus has been to drive 100 percent graduation rates, policymakers and educators are realizing that degree is of no use without proper employment. A nation depends as much on education as it does on focused knowledge and earnings. Therefore, the style and subject of education has to change or be drastically modified.
In order to deal with the competitive global job market, students have to be equipped with skills, technology and tools that are innovative and smart. Aligning and updating courses to keep up with the changing industry patterns and how the global economy is shifting is important.
There have been notable developments in schools across the country to deal with this troubling phenomenon.
By next fall, Seattle will have 10 of its high schools and three middle schools offering courses that will enable students to compete in a high-tech job market. Ranging from exploratory to Advanced Placement classes, these courses will primarily be in the areas of computer science and STEM.
The reason for this focus is simple. Washington state is one of the fastest-growing areas for science, engineering, math and technology fields. But, as a Boston Consulting Group (BCG) and Washington Roundtable report revealed, employers in Washington had to cope with 20,000 unfilled openings in STEM fields in 2013.
A 2014 BCG study showed that only 9 percent of Seattle-area children end up working in STEM jobs. In order to ensure that students can take advantage of these opportunities and companies get to hire locally, state and administrative efforts have to be combined.
Arizona's Whiteriver Unified School District is also strongly focusing on their STEM program to help prepare their students to fill jobs. Positive development is also seen in the efforts of Georgia's Bartow County School System, which is aiming to help students in preparing for the workforce with their innovative Great Promise Partnership program. A pilot program at Pittsburgh Public Schools focuses on various career and technical education programs to prepare students for high-demand HVAC jobs in the area.
But perhaps the most innovative strategy is the one adopted by Long Beach Unified, the third-largest school district in California. They are helping prepare students for higher-paying jobs with Linked Learning, an approach that blends traditional academics with career-based learning, making it easier for students to fill in their knowledge gaps.
Students have a direct connection with employers and get firsthand information about which skills are in demand and what kind of training they should go in for. This will help not only in filling up the workforce but also in students getting jobs in an uncertain economy.
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