All Articles Education Career-Technical Education How is the U.S. faring in the great #skillsrace?

How is the U.S. faring in the great #skillsrace?

4 min read

Career-Technical Education

How can educators, employers and government leaders work together to prepare students for today’s technically-sophisticated labor market? And what kind of skills route students to good, 21st-century jobs? Panelists addressed these questions and more during a May 21 conversation hosted by New America Foundation.

Much attention has been directed to the “skills gap,”  or the challenges employers confront in sourcing workers with the right qualifications for today’s fast-paced economy. Here are some lessons stakeholders shared at the discussion:

The U.S. is not alone in this fight

There’s a lot of anxiety surrounding skills in the U.S., from both the supply side — students weighing which postsecondary track or college major will land them a job — and the demand side — employers who are struggling in their search for highly-skilled workers. It is taking today’s college graduates more time to find a job, and recent graduates are more likely to be underemployed, noted New America Senior Policy Analyst Mary Alice McCarthy, citing a report from the New York Federal Reserve.

Both established economies, such as those in the U.S., Australia and South Korea, and emerging economies, such as those in Mexico and Vietnam, keenly feel this tension between the labor market’s supply and demand, according to a 2014 report by the OECD Directorate for Education and Skills. The study surveyed global approaches to career training and found that many countries are grappling with how best to resolve gaps in skills.

“There’s something of an emergence of a global disillusion with the college-for-all approach…as a model for career preparation,” said Simon Field, project leader of the OECD Directorate for Education and Skills.

Many countries are now focusing on technical and vocational education and how to bridge the education and workforce worlds, Field said. Germany is sometimes touted as the crown jewel of economic systems that rely on work-based experiences to guide students to jobs, but it’s important to recognize that many institutions work together to support that model, he added.

The U.S. could increase its competitiveness by integrating more work-based experiences into its education model,  Field suggested.

“There are innovations out there that can help,” he said. “Workplaces are a great place to both learn the hard skills, like technology, and the soft skills. They’re also a key to partnerships with employers.”

Foundational academic skills are an important path to workforce

It’s a false dichotomy to pit occupational learning against academic coursework, said Byron Auguste, managing director of Opportunity@Work, a civic enterprise based at New America.

“Look at the complexity of the text for a technical manual for any kind of machinery,” Auguste said. “The decoding, close-reading and analysis is an application of academic skills.”

Holly Zanville, strategy director of the Lumina Foundation, challenged the group to think about what words they use to describe foundational skills as they apply to education and training.

“There’s more and more understanding of the application of learning in K-12 and postsecondary education,” she said. “Communication, problem-solving and quantitative literacy skills…are an important on-ramp to many different disciplines.”

Connection can lead to change

All the panelists highlighted the importance of education, industry and government collaboration to support innovation in the U.S.

The Federal Reserve, for example, is not traditionally viewed as leader in the country’s workforce development efforts, said Todd Greenevice president of Federal Reserve System of Atlanta. But full employment is an important factor in the country’s fiscal policy and the Fed is increasingly engaging with workforce stakeholders, according to Greene.

The Atlanta Fed has launched an initiative to align local employers with prospective workers. It helps to convene representatives from technical colleges, employers, workforce development boards and county officials as a relationship-building exercise. All 12 Federal Reserve systems are similarly invested in workforce and community building, Greene said.

For more on the discussion, visit SmartBrief’s roundup of social media shares from the event.

Mina Dixon is an editorial assistant at SmartBrief, where she helps write and edit content across industries, including education.

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