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K-12 is the Key to Workforce Development

Updated: 6 days ago

Ask anyone how prepared they felt the first time they entered the workforce, and you’re likely to get mixed responses that indicate differing levels of confidence. Ask their employers how prepared they felt these individuals were, and you're likely to hear discouraging responses across the board, at least according to a recent survey conducted by the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE).

See the chart below for reference:

There is clearly a substantial disconnect between the way students felt about their proficiency, and the way employers felt. This is especially true when looking at “Professionalism/Work Ethic,” “Oral/Written Communications” and “Leadership,” which are invaluable skills in the work environment, particularly if you want to keep working.

Furthermore, according to a recent report published by Gallup and Strada, only 13% of the general population strongly agree that college grads are prepared for the workforce. Only 11% of C-level business people feel college graduates are well-prepared for the workforce. Most alarming, only 26% of college graduates strongly agree that their college experience was relevant to their current job. Why is that so alarming? As reported by Gallup and Strada, “consumer ratings of relevance are more powerful predictors of quality and value than demographic characteristics of individuals, their fields of study and their levels of education.”

Here’s the rub. This data only takes into account the role that higher-education plays in preparing students for the modern workforce. Of course, that makes sense considering these surveys were designed to shed light on students currently entering the workforce from college; however, by their nature alone, they are incomplete.

In other words, it is time that we begin to consider the impact that K-12 education has on preparing students for the modern workforce. Luckily, there is some data there as well. Unfortunately, it is just as troubling. The same report from Gallup and Strada found that only 3% of the general population strongly agree that high school grads are prepared for college, and only 5% strongly agree that high school grads are prepared for the workforce.

We need to shatter the obsolete paradigm that says students at that age are not supposed to be prepared for the workforce. Regardless of whether or not you believe high school graduates should be working, it is alarming that the vast majority of people don’t believe high school graduates are ready for college.

There are certainly pockets of innovation across the country where K-12 education systems are striving to take the steps necessary to prepare students for the modern workforce. However, as a whole, the education system has toiled through the last 100 years with no significant change. K-12 has to be the catalyst in making change a possibility.

The fact of the matter is, we’re heading toward a future dependent upon a more dynamic talent pipeline; we need to be prepared for that future. Researchers predict that by 2030 85% of the jobs that exist today will no longer exist. 2030 is also when the current kindergarten class will be entering college, or the workforce, and when the current 3rd, 4th and 5th grade classes will be graduating college, if they attend. Which means that now is the time to start changing the narrative in workforce development.

K-12 education needs to be at the epicenter of that transformation, and here’s how.

Work-based Learning Is Imperative

Leverage Community Voice in Your Learning Environment

Students today are engaged differently and more complexly than ever before, plain and simple. Furthermore, as much as gamification, project-based learning and blended learning strategies support student engagement, not enough is being said about the benefits of work-based learning experiences for students.

When students are viewed as colleagues in research alongside their teachers, and given the chance to interact with industry clients at a young age, the results are undeniable. Students learn the rigors associated with work environments, how to cope with those rigors and ultimately how to develop the creativity that leads to future careers.

Schools can bring this to their learning environment by working within their communities to find industry partners that buy-in to their mission, and support the growth of career pathways for students at a young age.

Connect Students to Industry Mentors

Students Need to Learn Essential Skills

When students are given the chance to take part in work-based learning experiences, they are inherently connected to industry mentors, and as such, taught essential life skills. The jobs of the future, and quite honestly current jobs too, depend heavily upon workers that possess creativity, adaptability, critical thinking, problem-solving, leadership, communication skills and emotional intelligence.

These are the types of skills that automation cannot replace, and the types of skills for which all employers are clamoring. When students are connected to industry mentors at a young age, they are given the opportunity to learn first-hand how valuable the skills mentioned above can, and will be, to their future careers.

The value of these industry mentors cannot be understated. Schools will inherently adopt these kinds of mentors when offering work-based learning experiences within their learning environments.

Real-World Authentic Learning Scenarios

Problem-solving that Matters

Finally, by ensuring community voice is involved in the learning schools offer, industry is able to offer authentic task-oriented work to students.

At mindSpark Learning, we have personally seen the success of an education model that incorporates industry, in many different schools.

Students in the Adams 12 STEM school network go through the problem-based learning model, and work hand-in-hand with industry partners to solve some of their biggest problems. They have fostered the growth of student-run companies, can proudly boast that over 1,000 of their students secured internships as early as 8th grade and their students have approximately 200 pending patents for the work they have done.

Likewise, students at Warren Tech -- a local high school in Golden, Colorado -- are directly connected to industry partners, and work with clients like Never Summer, the Arvada Center and various culinary programs, amongst many other fields. Warren Tech ensures these industries are a part of their students’ portfolio and resume reviews, and they even bring in representatives from these industries to conduct mock interviews with students at the end of the year.

The point is, when an entire community gets involved with their schools, education becomes the driving force for that community’s holistic well-being, and thriving economy. Furthermore, students in those schools benefit tremendously from this type of community investment because they are taught the types of relevant skills that will lead to successful careers. Imagine the impact this type of industry-based education model could have on a national, or even global scale!


What are the benefits of this model to K-12 education? A more dynamic talent pipeline, an economy that’s prepared for the future and communities that are holistically built to tackle whatever is on the horizon as automation is continually integrated into daily life.

Getting a four-year college degree will take a student a long way toward finding a career, but it can only take them so far once they actually enter the workforce. It is imperative that we start preparing students for the work environment at an earlier age, and it starts with K-12 education.

P.S. Before you go, make sure to download our free e-book if you haven't already! 


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