Each August, ACT announces test results for the most recent high school graduating class. The annual “Condition of College & Career Readiness” report is a barometer of just how prepared — or unprepared — America’s young people are when they leave the K-12 system, painting a detailed picture of what ACT-tested high school graduates have learned in school.
Of course, that’s part of what colleges want to know when they consider students for admission. But a voice is missing from this conversation: employers.
This is not a new problem. High schools are most commonly evaluated by graduation rates, college entrance exam scores, percentage of students enrolling in college and the like. The rare exception is schools that exist specifically to train individuals to enter a career field soon after graduation. By and large, educators do not seek input from employers, nor do employers typically reach out to schools to discuss workplace expectations.
It’s time to add a new lens, however, through which we view preparedness — a lens that includes the view of the employer.
Without this lens, the misalignment between the country’s education system and its workforce system will continue to drag the economy. A February 2011 study by the Harvard Graduate School of Education, “Pathways to Prosperity,” offered a way to create a meaningful dialogue by recommending that employers engage with educators to help “set standards and design programs of study.”
The report encourages employers to provide “greatly expanded opportunities for work-linked learning” and therefore become “partners in the national effort to prepare young adults for success.”
One of the best predictors of success in the workplace, it could be argued, is an individual’s skill in literacy, numeracy and mastery of spatial relationships. These skills involve the ability to comprehend the written word, apply mathematics and locate key information from a graphical source while filtering out irrelevant information.
However, when you ask employers what they’d like from their workers, they often cite skills such as creative problem solving, critical thinking, adaptability/agility and resilience. That list doesn’t match a typical K-12 course list.
To improve the current situation, employers need to do more than complain about the caliber of job applicants; they need to roll up their sleeves and get involved with educators. They need to use the same language to describe outcomes and skill attainment. Talent developers need to invite students — and their teachers — to visit the workplace to speak with and observe skilled workers in action.
Business leaders should provide job shadowing and internship opportunities for students and teachers to open a dialogue on the relevancy of classroom learning to the world of work. And the creation of new, structured apprenticeship programs would be a significant leap forward as well.
In advance of these initiatives, employers need to have a secure handle on just what it takes to be successful in the workplace so they can communicate critical tasks and skills with their talent suppliers. Down the road, corporate trainers and talent developers will have an easier task, saving both time and cost, if their incoming employees know what will be expected of them and how equipped they must be to learn and adapt.
Martin Scaglione is president of ACT’s Workforce Development Division. He can be reached at editor@CLOmedia.com.