Are We Truly Preparing the Next Generations Workforce?

Are We Truly Preparing the Next Generations Workforce?

By Mercer Hall

In some hemispheres of the educational world, everything old is new again. The hands-on, exploratory model of Montessori schools is enjoying a renaissance in maker faires and project-based learning. The trade-based model of vocational schools is also receiving renewed attention as computer and healthcare industries crave trained experts.

At the state level, however, testing mandates are denying these promising academic trends. Instead, they are imposing a centralized Common Core curriculum that enforces a commoditized set of standards. These benchmarks seek to raise learning expectations by ratcheting up the educational rigor.

The “Common Chore”:

Only two states so far have released their Common Core results. The initial scores from New York and Kentucky are appalling. “Passing” rates in both states fell by about 30 percentage points. As Steve Nelson, head of the Calhoun School in Manhattan, notes in the Huffington Post, “The shift from the wrong-headed policies of No Child Left Behind to the new Common Core and its tests is nothing more than rearranging the deck chairs on the titanic failure of education in America.”

The danger of cookie-cutter tests is that the job market is not one-size-fits-all. Rigid standards do not equip graduates with authentic skills for an emerging workforce. Few employers are clamoring for rote employees who eschew initiative and shrink from responsibility.

The proper direction for states is to free up control back to individual schools and to focus on contemporary skills that are critical to the coming job market. Businesses can benefit enormously by hiring young people who possess the following leading-edge attributes, none of which can be assessed through bubble-sheet tests:

Entrepreneurial Thinking:

Entrepreneurship is both a skillset and a mindset. Building a business from the ground up involves planning, branding, marketing, media literacy, and financial know-how. Entrepreneurship also instills values of leadership, initiative, goal setting, and grit. Letting students practice this start-up mentality will help them cultivate the ethics of proactive thinking. EdSurge, for example, describes a new Incubator School in Los Angeles that will incorporate flexible periods, design studios, and 1:1 technology to tap into students’ wells of invention and passion.

Coding Literacy:

Computers admittedly are not new. But the ubiquity of current technology means that every facet of modern living is governed by the running of a program. Teaching students to write computer code involves logic, structure, and attention to detail. Programming combines the analytical proofs of mathematics with the idiomatic syntax of grammar. It teaches cause-and-effect outcomes, if-then relationships, and sequential reasoning. Whether or not a graduate pursues a technical career, a grounding in digital languages will pull back the curtain on opaque functions and give every worker a sense of ordered thinking.

Reading Visual Inputs:

Information today is highly visual. Americans receive most of their cognitive stimuli via images and moving pictures. From smartphones to tablets, infographics to animations, video games to Google Glass, content delivery is primarily an optic endeavor. Learners, therefore, need the skills to parse these graphic streams. Often called graphicacy, this is the ability to encode and decode images. Instruction in this field ranges from time-honored exercises in maps and pie charts to cutting-edge activities in data visualizations and 3D renderings.

Exploiting Networks:

Social media is no longer just the playground of celebrities and tweens. Interpersonal networks are at the forefront of curating information and cultivating relationships. Businesses, for their part, thrive on these same dynamics. As Chief Digital Officer at Columbia University Sree Sreenivasan says, “Always Be Collecting.” He means that by nimbly negotiating RSS feeds, Twitter followers, and blog rolls, employees can uncover niche discoveries and potential collaborators that will enhance a service economy.

Active Learning:

Teachers and employers alike attest that they want to work with hands-on, imaginative minds. Yet little in a carbon-copy classroom nurtures this sense of creativity. Active learning refers to discovery. It makes enrichment an everyday activity through open-ended projects. Tinkering and experimenting help foster originality, which is paramount now that content is essentially free. Worksheets and lectures are the opposite of motivation and inspiration. Schools can establish makerspaces to make kinetic creation a regular part of the student experience.

With all of these changes taking place in both academia and industry, the question becomes: Instead of training kids for a modern workforce, maybe companies should design a workplace fit for today’s digital natives. In other words, maybe corporations should work backwards. They can pinpoint the unique skills that a rising cohort of thinkers will possess and then tap into those talents to transform their business climates.

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