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December 22, 2020

Preparing Students for a Changing Workforce: Panels with Experts in K-12, College, and Adult Students

As the workforce rapidly changes due to digitization, school administrators must adapt their teaching and training to best prepare students for the future. College Promise convened leaders from institutions serving K-12, college, and adult students to discuss the ways they are evolving programs and approaches to make sure students are ready for the jobs of the future.

K-12 Students

From incorporating digital skills into the curriculum to building employer partnerships, K-12 schools across the country are innovating with career and technical education to prepare students for future careers. Lisa Petrides, Founder & CEO of ISKME (Institute for the Study of Knowledge Management in Education), led a conversation about the ways in which leaders can adapt and evolve K-12 curriculum to best prepare students. She was joined by philanthropic leaders Stan Litow, President Emeritus of IBM Foundation, and Chuck Ambrose, President and CEO of KnowledgeWorks.

The K-12 system can be used to establish a solid learning foundation and this is especially important with a rapidly changing workforce. Soft skills development, experiential learning, and early career exploration are three key components for developing a K-12 system that prepares students for future careers. In the face of digitization and artificial intelligence, soft skills will prove to be more important than ever before.

“The workplace has always changed; the skills required in the workplace have always changed. What's different is the pace of change. The pace has accelerated significantly,” said Litow. What is the solution to responding to that accelerated pace of change? Litow says it’s the collaboration between K-12 and higher education to foster these soft skills or, as he prefers to call them, essential skills, like problem-solving, writing, and collaboration. “What we need to learn in our K-12 system is not necessarily to change our curriculum because an academic curriculum is critically important, but how the curriculum is taught could incorporate those essential skills,” Litow advised.

Ambrose pointed out another key tool in getting skills to K-12 students: personalized learning that is unique to each student. “One tool we really firmly believe in, in the midst of true transformation, is personalized competency-based learning. It's that transition of having learning personalized for the needs of every child,” he said. Special education, Ambrose pointed out, is the best example of learning that is already personalized for individuals. “It is a plan that meets your needs where you are and where you want the student to go. That leads to those competencies that can be translated across systems and makes that pathway different,” said Ambrose. Individualized learning, instead of generalized curriculum for all students, will be key in preparing young students for the work of the future.

College Students

Eighty-five percent of the jobs that today’s students will have in 2030 don’t exist yet. So what role should colleges and universities play in preparing students for a workplace that is constantly changing? Rosye Cloud, Senior Leader at College Promise, discussed opportunities institutions have to stand out for teaching “human skills,” such as problem solving or the ability to work in a team, that are useful for the jobs of today and those of tomorrow. She was joined by Cheryl Hyman, Vice Provost of Arizona State University, and Maria Scott Cormier, Senior Research Associate at Community College Research Center.

Cheryl Hyman says the strategic vision for ASU is that they aim to facilitate the universal learner. “We're expecting a growth in individuals increasingly moving in and out of formal and informal learning throughout their lives. No longer will we see a student who graduates and works for 30 years and then they're done. We will all be in this continuum of learning because the labor market will demand it. Life will demand it,” she said. Hyman credits this change, partly, to acceleration in the pace of change in the labor market, especially as jobs are being created online that didn't exist before, and while the skills required to succeed in current jobs are growing obsolete at an increasing speed.

“So to facilitate the universal learner, we're making substantial investments in innovation, in the skills and infrastructure that our institution needs to permit such fluid entry and exit from higher learning,” she added. Hyman gave an example of this innovation: ASU’s Trusted Learner Network, which aims to substantially increase the data exchange between institutions and employers while allowing the learner to retain control of their learning across their lifetime.

Maria Scott Cormier mentioned the growing recognition that the COVID-19 pandemic is accelerating the impact of automation in the workplace, noting how It's transforming the nature of work, but particularly that of middle-skills jobs that do not require a bachelor's degree. “This will have lasting impacts and effects on how people do their work and the type of work that will be available. There are people who will be left behind if we don't start doing something, if we don't start paying more attention to our workforce training and how we're having people enter and re-enter the workplace and upskilling,” she said.

“There's a whole range of questions around the skills, the ways in which they’re going to change, and the trickle-down effect on our programming. Different factors, inevitably, are going to impact colleges differently and their ability to adapt to workforce training needs going forward,” Scott Cormier added, signaling toward the need for fast-paced adaptations institutions must make to match the rate of workforce change.

Adult Students

By 2027, postsecondary enrollment among adults is projected to grow by just one percent, as compared to five percent for traditional-aged students. Recent OECD analysis suggests that while only about one in seven jobs is at risk of full automation — another 30 percent will likely be overhauled — with workers with less training at greatest risk. As the future of the workforce changes, access to re-skilling opportunities in postsecondary education will be critical to ensuring robust employment for all workers.

Vinice Davis, Venture Partner at Imaginable Futures, joined College Promise to discuss the new education and training that adults in the workforce will have to address. She conversed with Chauncy Lennon, Vice President of the Future of Learning and work at Lumina Foundation, and Sid Espinosa, Senior Director of Philanthropy and Civic Engagement at Microsoft, to hear their thoughts.

Chauncy Lennon began with the concerns sets of workers who will find, far into their careers, that their industry goes away. “Not just their job: their industry. And they're going to have to fully retrain. They're going to have to figure out, especially if they want to stay where they're living, what kinds of opportunities might be available.” He says there is a whole scale shift that will happen -- and that it will require not only more extensive retraining, but also a shift in advising for students and workers to navigate their career pathways.

The way to do this, Lennon says, is making postsecondary education and training available to these workers. “Before the retraining, it's going to require a certain amount of navigation. We're going to need a world in which people can go to community college, to four-year institutions, and to other kinds of education training providers and get a clear and informed sense of what the opportunities in their community and region look like and what the pathways they can use to move forward.”

Sid Espinosa raised the issue of access, a barrier which many students and workers face nationally. He says leaders should start at the broadest level: broadband access. “There's no point in talking about all these certification programs for communities if they can't access them, whether that's hardware through connective technology, etc.,” he said. “There's frankly a bigger, broader conversation that I think is going to be critical -- that higher ed can help us lead and study to understand how to approach this thinking and this work related to access in a broad sense.”

Espinosa sees the second concern for higher education institutions, in particular, should be connection, especially for landing students in actual jobs. “The connection to businesses and thinking about what those skills are that are needed, where industries are going, and having a real understanding of how you create better synergies. And I'm not just talking about pre-professional, and I'm not just talking about a certification. I'm talking about the real breaking down of the ivory tower mentality that it's sort of, you're in these closed walls for four years or two, and then you're out in the workplace,” he added, noting that he thinks that breaking down the walls between institutions and the workforce  is going to be increasingly critical for student and worker success.

This blog post is part of a series of recordings from the College Promise Careers Institute. In November 2020, College Promise held the virtual 3-day summit convening hundreds of our nation's leading practitioners, educators, employers, and thought leaders for sessions tackling the most complex challenges American workers face -- from the rise of artificial intelligence to the role free college plays in maintaining a competitive edge.

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