Why do I have to learn this? Helping students connect to the answer.

November 13, 2018

Takeaways

Regions with the most skilled workers grow more organically and draw new companies to open facilities there.
Without connecting the world of work and education, our next generation cannot understand what is needed of them.

Looking across the country, there are a range of current and future challenges influencing America’s ability to remain competitive in the race for talent. Companies everywhere are growing and the most crucial factor influencing corporate decisions on where to locate or expand operations is the ability to recruit the best workforce. Therefore, regions with the most skilled workers will not only grow more organically but also have other companies, both national and international, opening facilities there. 

As the economy continues to change at a rapid pace, making the seemingly simple task of keeping up with available jobs across industries increasingly difficult, advances in technology are leading to automation of some jobs and, in other areas, the creation of new jobs – often in sectors so new that the job itself is barely defined. Newer industries, such as clean energy and artificial intelligence, are still developing, so it isn’t clear to educators or students what skills - hard or soft - one may need to compete for those job openings. 

The solution to this workforce challenge stems from an integral part of everyone’s life: education. Every ability, competency, and learned skill used in the world of work is born out of education and the career-related interactions experienced throughout it. Without connecting the world of work with education, America’s next generation of workers cannot have a good understanding of what is truly needed from them.

Helping students understand these connections early is vital to their future. Students exposed to different careers early can associate classroom learning with each career, match it with their own passions and interests, and align it with next steps for their future education and career goals. Simply stated, it gives students an answer to the age-old question of, “why do I have to learn this?”

At a higher level, students matching their interests to a specific industry can learn and master the skills needed for that industry’s jobs earlier, propelling them into a career path they truly love. With a workforce that enjoys the work they are skilled in, employers can both fill open positions faster and keep them filled longer. Happy employees work better and stay at companies longer, translating to more effective and efficient companies that help fuel economies. 

Making career education more equitable, as well as cost-effective and efficient, is a difficult task; but education communities don’t have to go it alone. In fact, educational entities can’t do it alone. Solving this issue requires cross-functional collaboration with all groups involved, starting at early-education and ending with employers. 

On the way from early-education to employment are many touchpoints and, with each, opportunities to collaborate with entities that can truly make or break career education success. Removing silos that separate organizations and in their place building strategic partnerships with organizations that play a key role - local trade associations, higher education facilities, STEM hubs, chambers of commerce, workforce boards, economic councils - will define a community’s workforce development success.

One example is the New Braunfels Chamber of Commerce, which has connected dozens of local businesses – from healthcare and IT, to manufacturing and tourism – with local students, virtually. They did this by bringing together regional industry, education, and government organizations within one centralized hub, managed by the Chamber and powered by Nepris, an online platform that virtually connects learners with industry professionals for career exposure.

New Braunfels is connecting students in their community with future careers - locally, nationally, and beyond. Instructors work with local employers to explore regional careers, and leverage today's technology to connect virtually with industry professionals. The ability for students to interact with today’s employees, ask and have questions answered directly in real time, and do all of this in rhythm with their existing class curriculum is crucial. 

What makes New Braunfels a model in workforce development was their forethought to build local strategic partnerships. Chambers, economic development, and workforce boards see their communities’ trends and can help local industry leaders spot the future workforce shortages. They then link those industry partners into the ecosystem to connect with learners to fill gaps. These virtual ecosystems allow employers to connect with and prepare the talent pool - from K-12 through post-secondary and even adult learner - for success, while also engaging employees in volunteer opportunities that are fun, easy, and beneficial to all involved. This industry exposure helps provide the hard and soft skills, as well as a career pathway, needed by learners to navigate and thrive in the real world.

Instead of leaving work for three hours to volunteer with one classroom, employees are virtually engaging with hundreds or even thousands of students at a time in short, 30 minute micro-engagements done from their home, office, or project site. Overall, this is exponentially increasing employers’ CSR/community engagement activities and the quality of the future workforce, while decreasing the cost, time, and shortcomings of traditional workforce development.

From 1-on-1 career explorations, resume preparations, and mock interviews, to group discussions on soft skills, project evaluations, and virtual tours of employer facilities, technology makes it possible to build a stronger local workforce. Providing learners of all ages not only access to explore the various career options available but also the resources and knowledge to build a career pathway that works for them is what makes this challenge one that can be solved.