Ensuring that postsecondary education and workforce training programs are aligned with employer needs is one of the priorities the Business Roundtable has identified as essential to building a skilled U.S. workforce, according to a report it released during the fourth annual Education Nation Summit, held Oct. 6-8, 2013, in New York.
The three-day gathering brought together more than 300 of the country’s top thought leaders and influencers in education, government, business, philanthropy and media to discuss the relationship between education and opportunity.
“It is no longer enough to describe the problems surrounding the way America educates and trains its citizens,” Business Roundtable President John Engler said in an Oct. 7 press statement. “If we, as a nation, want to get Americans back to work and keep them in well-paying jobs, it’s time for reforms that will prepare all students and employees for the world in which they will live and work.”
Business Roundtable is an association of chief executive officers of leading U.S. companies that generate $7.4 trillion in annual revenues and employ more than 16 million people. Its report Taking Action on Education and Workforce Preparedness provides recommendations for how the U.S. should educate and train individuals for success in college and at work, based on interviews with more than 30 recognized experts in the fields of education and workforce development.
The following are among the recommendations to address what some see as a skills and training gap among U.S. workers:
Encourage competency-based learning and completion of credentials that are valued by employers by allowing students at postsecondary-education institutions to receive credit—instead of just credit hours—for skills they learn at work or in the military, and to earn a degree or workforce certification based on demonstrated skills mastery.
Increase affordability and productivity of postsecondary education and training by providing incentives to institutions to reduce cost and slow tuition increases while improving the quality of education.
Implement and expand upon proven models for achieving competencies, such as apprenticeships that provide pathways between high school and postsecondary education and training that lead to entry-level jobs. The report also calls for Congress to modernize career and technical education, involving businesses so that the skills taught are aligned with labor-market needs.
Encourage skills-based assessments and hiring by increasing the “development and use of assessments” so that job seekers can demonstrate their skills even if they do not have a degree.
Improve and reauthorize the Workforce Investment Act (WIA).
Provide more efficient and transparent data systems for postsecondary-education and training institutions that present clear, useful data on things such as degree-completion rates, job placement and earnings for each degree and certification program.
The report also identifies four major public-policy priorities the country must address:
- Encourage students to study and pursue careers in the science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields, which reportedly have higher growth rates, lower unemployment rates and higher starting salaries than non-STEM fields.
- Develop more effective teachers.
- Expand access to high-quality early-learning programs.
- Implement the Common Core State Standards, which outline what students should know and be able to do at each grade level from kindergarten through 12th grade.
Business Roundtable and the U.S. business community at large support the standards because they structure education around the knowledge and skills all students need to succeed in their postsecondary studies and in the workplace. They are internationally benchmarked and aligned with college and employer expectations.
“Our young people are not competing for jobs in their neighborhood or in their district, in their state or the country anymore,” U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said in an interview with NBC News reporter Andrea Mitchell in May, during an education innovation summit held in Washington, D.C.
“Young people are competing for jobs with young people in India, in China, in Singapore and South Korea, and good jobs are going to go where the most knowledgeable workers are,” he said. “For me, this is about so much more than education. We’re really fighting … to keep great middle-class jobs here.”
Recommendations to Reality
Some of the report’s recommendations are already being carried out in parts of the U.S., through efforts like the innovative eight-week Aerospace Fastener Manufacturing summer training program at El Camino College, Compton Center, in California.
SHRM Legal Issues reported in February 2013 on efforts by Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, who, in 2013, announced a workforce development plan to help employees develop new skills. Included in the proposal was funding for an information system that would provide high school students and guidance counselors with up-to-date labor-market information about career opportunities and training needed for in-demand jobs.
In Brooklyn, Pathways in Technology Early College High School (P-TECH) connects high schools, colleges and the world of work through college and industry partnerships, Duncan said. The program was created by a collaboration of the New York City Public Schools, the City University of New York and IBM.
Duncan said P-TECH offers students “a great opportunity to learn from the team at IBM; they’ll graduate from high school with their associate’s degree” while being exposed to college-level classes in a way that makes them comfortable with higher education. “Those kinds of opportunities have to become the norm.”
Kathy Gurchiek is the associate editor for HR News.
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