What's Missing in Career Education Today?
by Patrick (Pat) Keeney, Head of Strategy and Innovation
During the social turmoil and rapid changes of the 1960s the United States was undergoing a revolution. One part of that revolution was in science education and was seen most vividly in physics. The country had been tasked by President John F. Kennedy with sending people to and from the Moon. This required a significant increase in the number of scientists, engineers, and technicians. As a curriculum, physics was revamped and “PSSC Physics” was born and adopted. A massive, scaled change was needed, it happened, and our country lept to its position as the technology leader of the world.
For the many years we have experienced a challenge of the same proportions. Some people call it the “Skills Gap” but it should be referred to as the “Education and Jobs Gap”. It is not challenging to find reports of between 4 and 6 MILLION middle skills jobs that pay well but remain unfilled thanks to a lack of qualified applicants. According to Burning Glass data, 1.3 million alone are in healthcare, and another 1.4 million in business fields. My perspective is unique in that I have been traveling across the United States for the past 10 years helping schools build programs to address this and help students. So how do we solve this?
Foremost, this is not a “jobs” problem. We have employment opportunities. According to the report “Pathways to Prosperity”, in the 1970s there were few middle skills jobs. These are jobs like Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA), para-legal, construction manager or Certified Adobe Web Designer. What have we done to accommodate this spiking growth of middle-skills jobs? Very little! The college diploma is still considered by individual educational consultants and decision makers (called “parents”) as the target. Advanced Placement testing is one of the de facto measures of the quality of a high school and is all about college. Colleges themselves, whether 2-year or 4-year institutions are structurally still the same but with ever-rising price tags. Even if they had retooled over this period, only a certain segment of America has unfettered access to higher education. Yes, we have done very little. Further, the access to these jobs represents inequity for many underprivileged groups.
The first step in solving this is understanding that this is a “people problem” and it spans, like the Space Race of the 1960s, social issues as well. The solutions are not to be found in Google’s abysmal pass rates for their recent credentialing opportunities, nor in any of the other sweeping ideas and changes that have been enacted. Over $1.3 billion in Perkins funding from the federal government pours into secondary and post-secondary schools every year, totaling billions since 2006, and the effect has been minimal at best. A major factor: we need to solve the problem of helping people train for their future, not for a singular job. Instead of “education to earn a job” this needs to become “education for a life”. It needs to be available to all. And I believe in some forms it has begun but not been fully realized.
I will continue this series in a few weeks and discuss what this might look like, why this is existentially important, and how some organizations are helping to address parts of the issue. I would love to hear questions and comments from you as well!