Several months ago, my colleague Leilani Brown penned an excellent oped for Newsweek that called on the private sector to do more to help today’s students prepare for tomorrow’s careers.
Whether out of pure philanthropy or as an early entry point to future customers—or most likely a mix of both—corporate America already contributes to schools in a big way, from direct financial support to a consistent voice at the national level calling for high academic standards and an emphasis on STEM.
Those are the easy things to do, especially because they align with ongoing business objectives and efforts. But what Leilani is calling for, and to which I lend my own name, is a much deeper level of engagement:
Companies should be looking to partner with education institutions on programs that prepare students to start a career right after graduation, or to work and learn while they pursue a higher degree … Corporate partners also help educational institutions ensure the curricula they are using is keeping pace with quickly-evolving technology.
Outside the classroom, companies can offer internships and shadowing opportunities to high school students to ensure a seamless transition from learning to doing. By participating in career readiness initiatives, companies can identify and recruit top talent with the assurance their employees have the skills and credentials they need to succeed.
It’s this broader alignment that defines true Career Readiness Education—from early-childhood education focused on mastering the skills needed for academic success to opportunity-aligned secondary education and a proven pathway into the workforce after graduation.
This becomes even more important in a rapidly changing economy, in which college is no longer the “golden ticket” it once was: college costs are spiraling, college dropout rates are soaring, and many college graduates are ending up in jobs that don’t require a college degree. Those who are most successful, according to an analysis by Moneycrashers, are those who’ve participated in internships, experiential learning, and skills-based courses—all hallmarks of Career Readiness Education.
Career Readiness Education empowers and enriches students. Students take the same core classes as other students, but their electives become not just what seems “fun” in the moment, but a bridge to how they see their entire lives stretching out before them. When they graduate, their diploma isn’t just a stamp of completion, but a signifier of true readiness for where they’re going next.
Millions of Americans are still stuck on the sideline of this economic expansion—they have the potential, just not the skills. Their success will mean much more than just boosted economic growth.
Businesses have just as much to gain. The U.S. has a critical shortage of workers with the skills to fill available jobs. Truly partnering with schools to close that skills gap will pay off in both the short and long terms.
As states across the country look to expand opportunities to take CTE classes, policymakers must recognize that this in-classroom time is just one piece of the big-picture approach. It’s a challenge that can’t be solved by schools alone.