The United States labor market is running at full steam, so much so that a record 6.6 million job openings have matched the number of unemployed Americans seeking work. This disconnect can be attributed to a lack of communication about skills development and career pathways, according to a recently-released report from the Committee for Economic Development of The Conference Board (CED).
Compiling the opinions and recommendations from CED’s nationwide “listening tour” stopping at five U.S. cities, Building Supports for Successful Transitions in the Workforce: Community Conversations with Business Leaders and Parents finds common ground in what parents and employers want for the prospects of children. They had a near-universal sentiment that the education system was not preparing students to have the technical and soft skills to compete in the labor market.
“In examining the ideas shared by participants, the underlying theme is unmistakable: There is a significant gap between what parents and employers want, and what high schools are delivering,” the report said.
The CED issued surveys to parents and business leaders asking their input on the challenges in preparing students for the future of work. These questions included the following:
- What are your goals and expectations for your child/children after they finish their education and/or training?
- What are your goals and expectations for employees once they are hired by your company?
- What is needed to help ensure that high school graduates are on a path toward a successful job/career?
- What is the role of business? What is the role of parents?
- What is the role of schools? What is the role of other intermediaries?
Whether it was a demographically-diverse large city (Oakland, California) or small and industry-dependent (Marysville, Ohio) parents reported to the CED that they wanted their children to have sustainable careers to make them financially-independent and productive members of their communities.
Business leaders said that they wanted their workforce to embody this ideal too, with workers having the soft skills that ensure employability like communication, problem-solving and strong ethics.
“If business leaders were to convey one single message to parents and students: soft skills matter, and can make or break your chance of being successful in the workplace,” the authors of the report said.
Parents and business leaders both agreed that a system-wide failure to promote alternative career pathways, training opportunities and lifelong learning had a direct effect on career readiness. Educators, as the link between childhood and working adulthood, could do more to raise awareness about careers and the skills to obtain them.
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The report suggested five improvements which could improve career readiness outcomes: improving coordination and collaboration among stakeholders, increased communication among stakeholders, better resources to identify career pathways, more work-based learning opportunities and soft skills development.
The CED recommended that employers collaborate with educators and policymakers to create a workforce pipeline and inform parents and students about career pathways available in their job market. To achieve this goal, the CED wanted more communication so that educators have an idea of what employers are expecting from the workforce.
Together, business leaders and parents agreed that a community intermediary is needed to provide personalized mentorship to students and provide better guidance beyond the “college for all” approach.
A Marysville business leader told the CED that there is a “need to be able to talk to parents about alternate pathways at a younger age than high school. Students and parents should be thinking about these options in middle school.”
Programs are cropping up around the nation that are introducing career pathways to younger students. WorkingNation has featured the Qualcomm® Thinkabit Lab™ and its Qualcomm World of Work™ component which is finding success in raising awareness about Qualcomm careers to middle school and elementary school students.
Business leaders told CED that soft skills were of primary importance and said that parents and educators both had a role to play in developing honest and resilient workers. As more employers are demanding increased soft skills training, education models are starting to incorporate them into the classroom environment. One such program highlighted by WorkingNation is the Creating IT Futures IT-Ready program for entry-level workers, which stresses career-ready skills mentioned in the CED report.
The report’s authors make it clear that the conversation about the future of work and skills training is foremost on parents’ and business leaders’ minds. They are asking the same questions about the state of the education system to handle the massive shift underway in the workforce.
The recommendations from the report are not impossible to implement as evidenced by states and municipalities taking charge of workforce development and bringing stakeholders together. Connecting parents and students to this work will be essential to the success of these initiatives moving forward
To read the entire CED report Building Supports for Successful Transitions in the Workforce: Community Conversations with Business Leaders and Parents: click here.
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