Why Schools Should Invest in Partnering with Local Employers
It’s like they say, there’s power in numbers. Larry Bernstein explains why districts should partner with local employers to strengthen the career development experience for students.
There’s a massive gap between the number of job openings and people looking for a job in the United States. Just how large is the gap? In a July 2022 report, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce noted the most recent data indicated more than 11 million job openings and six million unemployed workers. Since March of 2018, besides for a brief period when the pandemic hit the US and lockdowns were imposed, there have been more job openings than job seekers. Before this time, this phenomenon has never occurred.
Businesses and the general public are both impacted by unfilled jobs. There are multiple factors behind the discrepancy between job openings and job seekers, which the U.S. Chamber of Commerce article notes. Part of the reason jobs are going unfulfilled is there’s a mismatch between the skills (and other elements) that job seekers have and what employers seek. To ensure the workforce can fill job openings, schools need to help students feel empowered to make decisions about their futures and acquire the in-demand skills. Schools are doing their students a great service by helping them develop a career path.
Preparing Students for the Future
Instilling students with the necessary skills for a fulfilling career has never been more challenging for schools. The challenge arises due to the rapidly changing work world as a reaction to the dramatic shifts in technology.
“New categories of jobs will emerge, partly or wholly displacing others. The skill sets required in both old and new occupations will change in most industries and transform how and where people work,” says the World Economic Forum’s The Future of Jobs report. It further notes, “Workers will need to have the appropriate skills enabling them to thrive in the workplace of the future and the ability to continue to retrain throughout their lives.”
A Pew Survey of scholars and educators found that 30% don’t “…believe adaptation in teaching environments will be sufficient to teach new skills at the scale that is necessary to help workers keep abreast of the tech changes that will upend millions of jobs.”
Because companies are desperate for workers, they have been hiring people who lack the required educational background. This is particularly true for technology jobs, says CNBC, “In place of four-year-degrees many companies are instead focusing on skills-based hiring to widen the talent pool.”
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Developing a Career Path
Children are asked from a young age what they want to be when they grow up. By the time they are in high school, they may have gotten the question a hundred times, yet many are unsure and or have changed their minds multiple times.
And that’s normal. Schools can help students so that they can answer the question with more certainty. To do this, schools should focus on helping students develop a career path. Software programs, such as Xello, help students recognize their skills and interests and what jobs may be appropriate based on them.
By helping students develop a career path, schools are helping the individual student and society. Students who develop a career path in high school have a clear direction of where they want to go upon graduation. Because they have a clear destination, students are more focused and engaged in their schoolwork. They see the value school offers and how it can help them progress along their chosen career path.
Society benefits as students are ready to fill job openings. They have the skills employers want and can handle the necessary tasks. Less time and money (and therefore greater profitability) will be spent by companies on training, making the employees more valuable and productive. This can result in higher pay and greater advancement for the employees and potentially lower costs and better service for customers.
The Role of Local Employers
As helpful as software programs and classroom education is, another component is essential to help students develop a career path: hands-on work experience.
Work-based learning (WBL), is an instructional strategy that enhances classroom learning by connecting it to the workplace. “… comprehensive WBL programs contain three key components: the alignment of classroom and workplace learning; application of academic, technical, and employability skills in a work setting; and support from classroom or workplace mentors,” says the National Center for Innovation in Career Technical and Education (NCICTE).
Schools can’t help students develop the necessary skills that businesses need from employees or best set their students along a career path without the help of local employers. By having students work with them, serve as apprentices, etc., local businesses are aiding schools in their mission.
Being part of a workplace allows students to gain invaluable experience that can help them determine their career paths. They learn practical skills and can recognize what they need to know to be successful (this could help determine if they want to go to a trade school or a 2-year, 4-year college). Students can also recognize the value of soft skills (communication, problem-solving, time management, etc.), which is helpful in any workplace or endeavor they participate.
Local businesses should also view their partnerships with school districts as an opportunity. They are developing a better-educated workforce, so students are more prepared to enter the workforce. Because they are increasing the pipeline of potential employees, they will find it easier to keep jobs filled and serve their customers.
By partnering with high schools, local businesses are viewed as good corporate citizens since they are giving back to the community. Gaining positive public relations increases awareness of the business and credibility. Local residents are more interested in supporting the business and appreciative of its needs and challenges.
Lastly, businesses that partner with schools and incorporate students into their workforce benefit from youthful enthusiasm. Students are not tarnished by frustration. They see things in a fresh light and are not burdened by a ‘this is how it’s always been’ type of attitude. Their positive energy can inspire colleagues and add a spark to the workplace.
Gains All Around
There’s a third party that gains from students working at local businesses: school districts. Partnering with a company requires time, energy, and investigation on behalf of the school district. The school district needs to ensure students are in a position to learn and succeed. Companies need to align with the school district so that both are on the same page.
Businesses may approach a school to offer internships. Despite having good intentions, the company may not understand how to enable the student to have a positive and productive experience. School districts need to work with local companies so that all parties can maximize their benefits.
Building lasting relationships with local employers can lead to other benefits for school districts. Businesses can be sources for speakers for career days and other school events. They could offer tours of their facilities, enabling students to get out of the classroom and experience how a real business looks and functions. They may also be willing to make donations to worthy events.
Businesses can also help school districts formulate curricula either directly or indirectly. Teachers can be isolated in the classroom and lose the connection to the ‘real world.’ By having access to local businesses and their employees, they can engage them and determine what skills, etc. their students need to be competitive in the modern work world. Local businesses might even create a curriculum for school districts.
Ultimately, school districts gain greatly by partnering with local companies. Their ability to help students develop a career path which is essential for their future success increases immensely.