"Challenges of Education to Prepare Students for the Workforce"
America has to transform its education system so that children can graduate high school and be competitive in the job market. The education system is no longer providing adequate working skills to American children with a high school education. With the manufacturing jobs shifting to Third World countries the contemporary education system should evaluate how well we are preparing our youth for the job market without continuing on to college. The education system has to evaluate how well it is preparing children for the job market, how well would specialized training as early as high school could benefit our country, and what skills need to be learned upon graduation to be successful in the job market.
John Kasarda, in the article “The Jobs-Skills Mismatch,” thinks that America is losing its manufacturing jobs which previously had been the backbone for the middle class Americans that only had a high school education. The fact is that now America is left in a position in which we essentially have a shortage of job skills in order to be able to compete in the new job market with only a high school diploma. Mr. Kasarda states that, “the role of the industrial cities in North America and Western Europe is being radically transformed by two trends in the global economic restructuring: the growth of the service economy and the shift of production toward the less developed countries”(2000, p. 349). Fundamentally our public education system had been designed to give children basic skills sets either to go to college or to be prepared for the workforce. We have had vocational education for students wishing to learn a specific trade at an entry level. But now the World is different. America has become a service nation and the remaining manufacturing jobs are not enough to employ an entire contingent of people with no other skill sets or job training. The blue-collar work force is being systematically erased and educators now have to find a way to ensure that secondary education is preparing its students to compete is a service based job market. But what is a service based economy? Essentially in the words of Mr. Kasarda American cities, where 80.3 percent of the population lives, “...are increasingly shedding their function of production and becoming only centers of coordination and control. The production plant is no longer necessarily a few miles from company headquarters in nearby industrial district; it may be on the next continent” (2000, p.350). Cities are becoming hubs of information and the blue collar work force is being left without the skill sets to compete for these technologically based job markets. The trend is staggering. “New York City...lost only 9,000 jobs between 1953 and 1970 in those industries in which the educational level of the average jobholder was less than high-school completion. But it lost more than half-a-million jobs in these industries between 1970 and 1986” (Kasarda,2000, p. 351). The group mostly affected by this trend is the African-Americans whose high school drop-out rate was between 30 to 50% in the 70's and 80's. And “despite their educational gains, black urban labor remains highly concentrated in the less-than-high-school education category where city employment has most rapidly declined since 1970” (Kasarda, 2000). Mr. Kasarda concludes that minority groups once flooded to these urban hubs for employment opportunities but now no longer have the education required to find jobs. Furthermore, minority groups remain in the cities even after the employment opportunities dwindled away leaving inner-urban turmoil, high unemployment rates, and social distress (2000, p.353). Coupled with the fact that these inner city schools face over-crowding issues and sometimes less-than-adequate facilities these trends will only increase with time unless we can fix the education system in these urban centers and change the curriculum so that those that do graduate high school are better prepared for the job market.
So how well are we preparing students for the current job market? In a troubling economy and a dwindling amount of jobs the challenge on the education system is even greater than ever before. According to author Lee Higdon in his article “Preparing Students for a Tough Job Market,” most economic downturns bounce back with an increase in jobs. Statistically speaking the American workforce should be up 7 million jobs based on past trends of recession; however, the job market is down 2.5 million jobs. He suggests that this must mean that there has been a permanent change to our job structure (2008). So the stress on the education system is greater than usual. By reviewing this information if a permanent job shift has occurred and the trends from the 80's in Mr. Kasarda's findings in the latter article would suggest that even more industrial jobs have been lost and there is still a transformation occurring into a service based economy in America. With the unemployment rates these jobs would be highly competitive and the skill sets would require competencies in technology and information based jobs. As Higdon's research finds that “the industries doing the greatest amount of hiring are relatively limited, whereas hiring in manufacturing, telecommunications,
and professional services remains problematic” (2008, p.17). Higdon's insights on curriculum are based on a college graduate, however the information still applies to a high-school graduate considering the job market is based on a service economy in which the skill sets are comparable. Higdon prepared a 7 step model for preparing students for the job market which used a wide based curriculum which would be based on securing employment. Higdon feels that technical proficiency is no longer enough to secure quality employment in the contemporary market. “The previous emphasis on technical proficiency alone has been expanded to include effective writing, speaking, listening, and time management skills” (2008, p.18). So what are we doing in the secondary curriculum that not only prepares a child for post-secondary success but also gives a child a chance at securing employment with a high school diploma? And what should be the focus of a secondary education in the contemporary job market? I think it is unrealistic to believe that all children will pursue a post-secondary degree even though it appears the skills sets necessary to be gainfully employed in today's economy would require them to do so. The average high school graduate that went on to attend college in 2004 was at 67% (Livingston, 2009) So not everyone goes to college that graduates, so is it unrealistic to think that educators can do more to prepare students for employment right out of high school?
Some evidence suggests that career development education is very successful at closing the educational gap, giving what would be an unskilled worker a trade. “For example, career academies
were almost 30 years ahead of the current stampede to establish small learning communities. They
combine academic and career themes, and they usually have working partnerships with local
employers”(Lewis, 2004). Even with the wealth of information available to our high school students statistics tell us that they still move into low skilled jobs after high school graduation pending they did not study a trade or technology based curriculum. There would appear to be clear divide, with now more than 2,500 of these career academies nationwide, between students who are intending to attend postsecondary schools and young adults who plan to take a skill to the work force. With the absents of manufacturing jobs in America the days of a low skill worker making a middle class wage seem to have disappeared. MDRC conducted research of over 1,400 career academy graduates with a control group of non-career academy graduates (everyday high school graduate) and found some interesting figures that support the success of career academies. The young male group, which she indicates has taken a step backwards in wage earning since the labor transition seem to have benefited the most from these academies. “Young male alumni of career academies...earned over $10,000 (or 18 percent) more during the four-year follow-up period than those in the nonacademy control group”(Lewis, 2004). However, Lewis reports that women did not show a positive or a negative results from attending career academies. Overall MDRC researchers conclude that their findings "provide convincing evidence that increased investments in career-related experiences during high school can improve postsecondary labor prospects” (Lewis, 2004).
The Governor of Pennsylvania feels its education reform will prepare students for the changing job market and better prepare them for postsecondary work in a service economy. “Our high school students are poised to enter the global marketplace or to continue their education beyond K-12, and we must ready them for a "flat" world in which competition for jobs and higher education is fierce” (Golden, 2006) Pennsylvania has taken a broad step in reform by addressing the following areas:outdated campuses, lack of leadership, under prepared teachers, and obsolete teaching methods. The campuses were not technically equipped to deal with a global economy. They also felt like the teachers lacked the innovation and leadership to prepare students for a changing global economy and workforce. Additionally, they felt teachers did not stay current on their curriculum and taught outdated subject matter. Furthermore, the state felt that the children were more comfortable using technology and advanced communication than their parents and teachers, thus Pennsylvania wanted embrace the change of technology and facilitate the students ability to retrieve current information.(Golden, 2006) They basically had to bring their facilities up-to-date as well as their teachers by streamlining classrooms and giving teachers strategic leadership lessons and training. Governor Rendell wanted embraced the divide I talked about earlier and funneled the students into two distinct preparation categories: postsecondary and workforce (Golden, 2006). The Classroom of the Future initiative wants (among other things) to put a laptop on every students desk and to technically equip teachers to the modern digital era . If the initiative is successful every school will be essentially the same and equally prepared for “digital era”(Golden, 2009). These types of technological advances and government support are the types of things the education reformers nationwide are trying to accomplish. The realization is there that in order to keep up in the global economy our entire workforce must be able to use all the available technology and to have strategies to develop new technology.
We know that education needed a necessary upgrade for preparation for both postsecondary education and for helping high school graduates enter the workforce. There is some debate about what is the best direction for education. When it comes to education reform some states are torn in which direction to go. Some industries need workers with skills but not necessarily a college degree, but what skills are those? Billy Harper owner of Harper Industries based out of Kentucky has over 1,000 employees in his 8 construction-based businesses and he feels that it is difficult to find workers, let alone workers with the skill sets needed to perform the job related tasks (Olson, 2006). Mr. Harper discusses the transition of his workforce and the problems he runs into as an employer.
“ 'We used to have a construction crew — if they were digging a ditch, you needed three or four laborers with a shovel and a supervisor,' he said. 'Now, you'll have one individual with no supervisor and a backhoe that's laser-controlled, and he's got to know how to set that up and how to use it. And that's an entry-level job' "(Olson, 2006). Problems like Mr. Harper's leave educators scratching their head. As Mr. Harper suggested, it is very difficult to join the workforce with only a high school education. It has become more apparent that some postsecondary education is in inevitable (Olson, 2006). But what are the skills needed to be in the workforce?
“The ACT researchers found that the scores needed to do well in first-year college courses were statistically comparable to the scores needed on the WorkKeys test to qualify for a range of occupations that pay enough to support a family of four and offer the potential for career advancement, but that do not require a four-year college degree. Those jobs — such as electrician and construction worker — typically do require some combination of vocational and on-the-job experience or an associate's degree” (Olson, 2009).
The direction to take education is still a question. From my research I know that we have to get more technologically advanced, but is there such thing as being able to have productive job with only a high school education. Maybe secondary schools have unrealistic expectations that they can adequately prepare a student for the workforce with a meaningful position.
Paul E. Barton works for Education Testing Services and he wrote about an extensive survey in which they interviewed employers about the traits that they desire out of their employees. He first outlines the problem by stating “Substantial research supports the case that arigorous curriculum is necessary to prepare students for success in college. There is much less consensus, however, on how best to prepare students who are graduating from high school but who will not attend college” (2006). Barton's research brought out what one would think of as common knowledge, that employers, no matter how well a child did, do not want to hire high school graduates until they are in their mid-20's. Of the statistics compiled Barton determined that the main reason employers don't hire applicants is not based on education. Almost 69% of rejected applicants had problems with timeliness, attendance, and work ethic (Barton, 2006). Barton also stated that, “This report summarizes studies of what employers say they are looking for when they hire for jobs that do not require college degrees. Such studies show that employers typically put school achievement below other qualities and attributes (2006). Barton also looks ahead at job openings that are projected by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics to find which skill sets will be needed. Of the 13 million jobs analyzed half of them only require short-term on-the-job-training and no college experience or additional training (Barton, 2009). “A couple of major studies covering the 1980s and 1990s, and projecting to 2006,show that occupations with the fastest growth rates have the highest educational requirements. Those jobs are a small percentage of the total, however,and average requirements for all occupations show no change” (Barton, 2009). Barton is trying to convey that even though the education reform was necessary for technological advancement and with helping the children whom plan to attend college, but some of the classical curriculum is still needed. The education system seems to be pushing to change in order to make children more prepared for the work force, but Barton's projections show that there is no need to panic at our educational shortcomings. Of the 13 million new jobs reviewed half only needed on-the-job-training and an educational competency of a 9th grader. The reoccurring theme with employers who hire non-college graduates and college graduates is attitude and communication skills.
The educational in the United States seem to be on the right track as far as preparing students adequately for the workforce and college alike. The technological advancement of the institutions themselves and the progression of the teaching staff have made it so that teachers can become strategic planners and educators. There is still a race disparity as the inner city schools fight to keep up and for funding. The inner city skill sets seem to have the highest disparity from an educational standpoint. There a lot more high skill jobs and not enough skilled workers. If the current educational and social reform can help build the minority groups and break the cycle of urban turmoil than it will be more likely that these high skilled jobs can be filled by minorities in the future. Trade schools seem to have the greatest benefit to male students and also a likely predictor of postsecondary education of some sort. Certain job sets that need additional vocational and technical training are being fielded by high school graduates with minimum amount of postsecondary education. The reform movement across the board are trying to implement job training, trade skills, or internships to get graduates into the workforce faster. The traditional career academies have had these relationships with employers since the invocation, but there resides a nation wide agenda for all traditional schools to have these same types of learning environments and relationships with potential employers. There is still debate as to what exactly is the best way to prepare students for the workforce. Some authors suggested the meaningful employment without any postsecondary education was a thing of the past, yet other like Mr. Barton argue that statistically the projections show that there will e a number of jobs becoming available that require basic competencies and a high school education. Mr. Barton seemed to be arguing that we should not abandon the high school as what traditionally has been and turn it into a prep school for something to follow. We cannot get into the mindset that postsecondary is a necessity, especially with the low graduation rates that we have for minorities. It is essential to still focus on preparing both the students for the workforce and for college as well as ensuring children graduate at high rates. Most educational facilities have taken this philosophy and built their curriculum around the concept that there are two distinct student types:those going to college and those entering the workforce. The new reform is pushing to meet the demands of both types of students and trying to guide them down the correct path. But both types of students have new technological advances to deal with in the global economy and the new demands placed upon the contemporary workforce. Many schools have addressed their needs or are at least have initiatives that have them pointing in the right direction. The transition to a service nation has came full circle. Although the education departments were slow to realize their needs we seem to be headed in the right direction. The next issue fore the reform will be equality in education to make sure that all of these programs reach the inner cities which would only help better America and transforming our cities into hubs off coordination and information.
Kasarda, J.D. (2000). Readings for Sociology (Edited by Garth Massey). “The Job-Skills Mismatch.” W.W. Norton:New York.
Higdon, L. (2004, September). Preparing Students for a Tough Job Market. University Business, 7(9), 17-19. Retrieved May 4, 2009, from Academic Search Premier database.
Lewis, A. (2004, December). Career Academies. Tech Directions, 64(5), 6-6. Retrieved May 4, 2009, from Academic Search Premier database
Anonymous. (2009). Rerieved May 4, 2009 from www.betterhighschools.org/docs/QuickStatsFactSheet_HSintheUS_03-13-09.pdf
Golden, M. (2006, July). Creating Classrooms of the Future. T H E Journal, 33(12), 25-26. Retrieved May 4, 2009, from Academic Search Premier database.
Olson, L. (2006, May 24). Ambiguity About Preparation for Workforce Clouds Efforts to Equip Students for Future. (Cover story). Education Week, 25(38), 1-20. Retrieved May 4, 2009, from Academic Search Premier database.
Barton, P.E., (2006) High School Reform and Work: Facing Labor Market Realities. Extracted May 4, 2009. www.ets.org/Media/Research/pdf/PICHWORK.pdf
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