The Skills Gap: U.S. Requires a New Educational Model for Economic Growth, Says IBM’s Stan Litow

Linking educators and employers is key to economic recovery and maintaining American global competitiveness

by Stanley Litow, IBM Vice President of Corporate Citizenship and Corporate Affairs and president of the IBM International Foundation, in U.S. News and World Report

Author Stanley Litow

Although the latest U.S. employment numbers are trending positively, there remain deep and systemic issues that have made fuller economic recovery elusive. Chief among these is the disconnect between the availability of skilled workers and the tens of thousands of good jobs waiting to be filled. Our understandably intense focus on restoring full employment in the current down-cycle economy has led some to relegate education and education reform to the back burner.

But we do so at our peril. The fact of the matter is that a redesigned and stronger educational system is essential to a sustainable economic recovery. We do ourselves—and future generations—a disservice if we fail to acknowledge this critical relationship.

Teachers and administrators say students are more focused with the shorter week, but critics are skeptical.

Recent statistics from the U.S. Department of Education indicate a significant increase in high school completion rates. That would have been great news had it happened more than 40 years ago, when a high school diploma still was either a ticket to a middle-class lifestyle or meaningful preparation for postsecondary education. In 1970, nearly 75 percent of people with only a high school diploma were middle class. But that’s ancient history in a world where the time between generations shrinks every year. In less than 10 years, fully two thirds of all middle-class jobs will require postsecondary education or training. Workers with only a high school diploma—including the 75 percent of community college students who fail to complete their associate degrees—will have few opportunities to earn more than poverty wages.

According to The College Payoff: Education, Occupations, Lifetime Earnings report by the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce, the United States currently has 29 million middle-class jobs that require at least two years of postsecondary education or training, with an additional 14 million jobs coming online over the next 10 years. These current and future jobs span industries such as healthcare, information technology, business, professional services, and office and sales support. In addition, many of these jobs offer entry to lifetime careers, especially for the 30 percent of community college graduates who go on to complete their bachelor’s degrees.

It is clear that education is firmly linked to economic growth. But simply funding education without reforming it is a mistake. To achieve education performance results that are meaningful in today’s economy, we need to commit to both support and innovation. We need to retool our school systems to enable businesses, educators, and communities to collaborate on strategies that leverage diminishing resources to the greatest advantage for our young people.

Two initiatives that have the potential to maximize educational performance and create solid economic value are career and technical education (CTE) and a new approach to professional apprenticeships. Implementing these programs via deep collaborations across businesses and education systems at all levels could refocus billions of dollars of current funding on innovative solutions to the challenges facing our young people in the 21st century, and offer larger numbers of them a ticket to opportunity.

Today’s CTE programs replace what we used to call vocational education—now an outmoded model. Twenty-first century CTE programs must emphasize public-private partnerships between educators and employers, and ensure that school curricula are academically rigorous and economically relevant. Working together, educators and employers can structure course content and classroom experiences to create a seamless link between education and careers. One such partnership is the collaboration among the New York City Schools, The City University of New York, and IBM on New York’s Pathways in Technology Early College High School (P-TECH), a grade 9-14 school that confers both the high school diploma and an associate degree in technology. Now entering its second year, P-TECH is achieving exciting results that are both replicable and scalable nationwide. The core concepts of this initiative are embodied in the U.S. Department of Education’s Blueprint for Education Reform.

Adopting a new approach to professional apprenticeships enables us to link education to employment in another important way. In Enterprising Pathways: Toward a National Plan of Action for Career and Technical Education coauthors IBM and Opportunity Nation suggest repurposing Federal College Work-Study funds (currently about $1 billion that provides on-campus wages for nearly 1 million college students) to help pay salaries for off-campus jobs that are directly connected to the students’ academic majors and intended careers. Replacing “cafeteria work” with meaningful professional apprenticeships with a built-in funding source, these new-model work-study jobs could be in the public, private, or nonprofit sectors. But these jobs must be designed to build skills, not just provide funds to pay tuition; they can and should do both. The distinguishing characteristics of these jobs would be the opportunities they would offer for college students to learn relevant skills to advance their learning and careers.

Working together to connect education to careers, educators and employers will help millions of our young people prepare for both higher education and meaningful lifelong employment. The United States has a distinguished history of adapting educational requirements to evolving market demands to maintain a competitive and stable economy. America enacted historic initiatives that increased mandatory education from eighth grade to high school, and later enabled broad access to higher education via the GI Bill. Both were education initiatives that fueled unprecedented economic growth. Just as we did in the past, it is now time for us to invest our efforts and resources in new educational models that will grow the skills of our young people and strengthen America’s global competitiveness.

—————————————————————————–

What steps do you think should be taken first?

 

One thought on “The Skills Gap: U.S. Requires a New Educational Model for Economic Growth, Says IBM’s Stan Litow

  1. While many of us appreciate and enjoy exploring knowledge for its own sake, the reality is that we all need to find employment to support our desires and interests at some point In life. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), about 1.7 million new and replacement doctoral-level jobs and about 0.9 million master’s jobs will open in this decade, comprising 4.7% of the total openings for new and replacement needs. In addition, 8.5 million openings are projected for bachelor’s degrees, at 15.6% of the total.

    If we consider that over half of high school graduates enter college, “following their heart’s dreams”, most of them will be disappointed when they encounter a job market that can accept only one-quarter of ALL the jobs available, at best. Many will be stuck with huge loan obligations, while being over-qualified and under-paid in positions that only allow them to “just get by”.

    This is a major reason why I believe that we must redirect the STEM emphasis in the high school curriculum away from the “college-degree pipeline” into a more flexible approach that uses additional dimensions of “Basic Workplace Skill Sets”, and “Applied Career Preparation Pathways”. These would slice up the core content information and knowledge needed for each of the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics subject areas into additional levels of complexity, and into a variety of workplace applications.

    A ladder of “Basic Workplace Skill Sets” would clearly identify the methods, practices, and “habits of mind” needed for entry into several occupational levels. These six levels would be progressive in the complexity of the content topics, and in the mathematics preparation needed for each. The “Master/ Professional”, “Engineer”, and “Scientist” skill levels would require extensive post-secondary effort, of course.

    But if the STEM course content were also identified at a “Technician” level, students would know that being competent at that level is a requirement, along with post-secondary training, for that kind of career. Likewise, developing skills at the “User/ Operator” level would have expectations for graduates entering the workforce right after graduation. Finally, the “Home & Consumer” level would match the core content standards for ALL students upon high school graduation.

    By labeling or tagging each specific topic, lesson, or textbook page with an identifier of what the achievement expectation is for knowing that “nugget” of essential information, learners could set realistic occupational goals, and follow more efficient pathways in pursuit of their futures. They can become successes as they step up the achievement ladder, according to their efforts and interests, rather than being failures for not having exited out of the college pipeline into a waiting job.

    So I think that a comprehensive STEM curriculum framework should provide some direct goals for the 75% of learners who will NOT be finding higher education degree occupations in this decade.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s