Recent decades have seen the U.S. economy transform at a breakneck pace due mainly to technology, globalization, and demographic shifts. These changes require a qualified workforce putting pressure on high schools to educate for workforce needs and help students secure gainful employment.
Recent surveys of students found that 81 percent believed that high school prepared them for college, but only 52 percent felt it prepared them for the workforce. Another study found that k-12, postsecondary, and other job training programs were using the same job training strategies they had been using for decades, despite major changes to workforce needs.
Meanwhile, according to Education Week, “employers are struggling to find workers with so-called “21st-century skills” such as information synthesis, creativity, problem-solving, communication, and teamwork.”
So how do high schools and educators better prepare students for the broad skills needed for success in the workplace and the particular requirements of this rapidly evolving labor landscape? Here are some tips:
- Be future-focused by connecting current learning to real adult life. Education World argues educators should be able to answer the age-old student question, “How will I use this in the real world?” Schools should balance the measurement of what students have learned year to year with how their education is preparing them for what comes next. TeachHUB recommends weaving the outside adult world into the classroom with, among other things, bringing in adult guest speakers, connecting learning to current events in the news, having students write regular workplace communications like business memos, ads, and emails. Technology such as Launch online training software can also help bring the outside world into the classroom. Create an online tutorial on preparing for a job interview or what to expect with an internship, for example.
- Teach complex thinking skills that are essential in the workplace. Getting back to the earlier point about employers struggling to find workers with the right skills, Education World reminds us that the modern workplace requires “innovation, creativity, and the ability to look at a task and not only see the outcome, but also imagine different ways to achieve it.” This involves, among other things, problem-solving skills. Edutopia offers several recommendations for teaching problem solving, including emphasizing the process of finding answers instead of just focusing on the answers. Sounding out and verbalizing the steps to a solution can be helpful.
- Prep for college and career, not just college. Education World recommends schools offer learning pathways for both the college-bound and those whose career path will not include college. This should include balancing course offerings for both groups and also teaching life skills like civics knowledge and the ability to balance a checkbook, that everyone will use. Online tools where staff can upload their own custom content about real life examples create an engaging experience for the students.
- Connect students to broader social and professional networks. The Brookings Institution stresses the essential role of positive adult-youth relationships, which provide skill-building, role-modeling, and coaching for young people as they progress. Schools should develop programs to facilitate these connections in and out of the school setting.
- Focus on work-based learning which can be experiential and practical. The Brookings Institution argues for more internship and apprenticeship programs facilitated through schools. They argue there is no better way to teach the practical workplace skills that employers want, and in the process provide context to classroom learning and positive mentoring relationships with working adults.
As mentioned, Comevo’s Launch online orientation and training software can be an integral part of bridging the classroom and future workplace, whether it be online training or tutorials or bringing professionals in different fields to the classroom without anyone having to leave their workspace.
Never has there been more pressure for schools to prepare students for a fast-changing workforce. The agility schools were forced to muster during the Pandemic will undoubtedly serve them in getting students ready for a quickly evolving world.