The Staggering Cost of Neglecting Career Development in Education

March 3, 2016

Takeaways

The growing skills gap between education and work can have a costly impact on our nation.

There is a black hole in our national approach to education. While we spend hundreds of billions of dollars helping students master standards and earn degrees, we devote almost no money or resources to help them figure out which career they are best suited for or the best way to get there.

The costs of this neglect are staggering. Even as college costs have ballooned and student debt has soared beyond $1.3 trillion, many college students lack a clear career focus. Partly as a result, many dropout before they earn a degree, and close to half of those who do graduate end up underemployed.

Even worse, nearly 1 million high school students a year fail to graduate on time, and one-in-seven young adults aged 16-24 are disconnected from both school and work. Meanwhile, American business faces daunting shortages of workers with the right skills and training to meet their needs. Simply put, career development needs to become a central focus of our education system. 

Career development refers to the process through which individuals learn how to wisely choose a career, and then discover the best pathway for pursuing that career. Career development is critically important to helping students discover pathways to career success, and is equally essential if we’re going to address the skills gap confronting so many American industries.

The costs of this neglect are staggering. Even as college costs have ballooned and student debt has soared beyond $1.3 trillion, many college students lack a clear career focus. Partly as a result, many dropout before they earn a degree, and close to half of those who do graduate end up underemployed.

Last week, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation hosted a national convening to examine how to make career development a priority in education. The meeting was organized by a steering committee of 13 major national business and education organizations, including the National Governors Association, Council of Chief State School Officers, the U.S. Chamber Foundation, and the Global Pathways Institute at Arizona State University, which took the lead in organizing the agenda.

A prominent group of 250 leaders from business, education, government, and philanthropy attended the meeting and came from as far away as Hawaii, Arizona, and Colorado.

The meeting had two primary objectives. First, to build consensus that we should make career development a central goal in education, in both our middle and high schools, as well as in our colleges and universities.

The second objective was to develop an action plan for taking high-quality career development to scale. The participants—who included some of the nation’s foremost leaders on education and workforce development—were asked to work together to develop a list of the most promising ideas. Suggestions included creating a new cadre of dedicated career counselors; enlisting business as a key partner in this work; recruiting many more mentors; and making better use of technology.

This gathering was just the first step. The Global Pathways Institute is now producing a draft call-to-action based on the excellent ideas that were developed. This will lay the basis for forming a career development coalition committed to promoting career development. 

We expect the coalition will include the 13 organizations that were involved in the steering committee, plus many more. This conversation will continue at the Southwest Pathways Conference, which we are hosting in Arizona May 2-4, and then at the global conference of the National Career Development Association, which will be held in Chicago in late June.

We hope to stimulate discussion and thought on how we might use this common sense reform—helping students carefully consider their career options—to address the current disconnect between education and the workforce needs of American industry.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR  

William C. Symonds is Director of the Global Pathways Institute and Professor of Practice at Arizona State. You can learn more about GPI by visiting www.globalpathwaysinstitute.org