Does K-12 education impact students’ preparedness for the work force? Do businesses find that students are prepared to be productive when they first enter the work place?

Does K-12 education impact students’ preparedness for the work force? Do businesses find that students are prepared to be productive when they first enter the work place?

Focused on the theme of Student Preparedness, AdvancED Source interviewed several business professionals seeking the answers to these and other questions. Following is a compilation of perspectives about how well today’s students are prepared for work.

Key Skills and Qualifications

Interviewees agreed that beyond the knowledge students gain in school, there are key skills and qualifications they must attain to be successful – verbal and written communication skills, the capacity to solve problems/critical thinking skills, the ability to cooperate with others and work in teams. According to Bill Fisher, CEO, Paragould Light Water & Cable, Paragould, Arkansas, “it does not matter how much knowledge an individual has if they are not able to work with others and have a positive attitude.”

Phil Jacobs, Partner with Pendleton Consulting Group in Atlanta, Georgia, and former executive for BellSouth and AT&T, shared his perspective that those entering the workforce need to have some competitiveness. “In business, there will ultimately be some level of competition, and we look for people who know how to handle that.”

Likewise, concern in the United States that too many teachers and schools are teaching to the test raised unease among those who were interviewed. Too often, they shared, students are learning to memorize and only what is on the test, rather than gaining a broader knowledge of the subjects they are studying and being able to apply that knowledge.

“If we are only teaching facts, what is missing is giving students a set of facts and allowing them to assess those facts and make an evaluative decision,” said Jacobs.

Communication Skills

During the Student Town Hall at the recent AdvancED International Summit, students shared their preference to text or communicate online versus talking on the phone. The audience asked the students questions about their dependence on technology versus interpersonal communication and whether they will lack the communication skills to be successful in business.

One audience member wanted to know whether they will be prepared to engage in dialogue, discussions or even debate in a professional environment and whether they are prepared to interact with all types of individuals from around the world in a professional and respectful manner — without the use of technology. Verbal communication has been at the heart of business for centuries and continues to appear on job descriptions as a required skill. Are young people so dependent on technology to communicate that they will be unable to meet the needs of businesses in the future?

“We have employees,” said Fisher, “who have the knowledge to do their job but will not be able to advance to more responsible positions because of the lack of communication skills.”

Monica Martinez, Education Consultant in Tiburon, CA and former President of New Tech Network, shared her belief that “this is why we need to provide technology literacy learning in schools, so students won’t lack interpersonal communication skills.”

Professionalism in the Workplace

In a 2009 study, repeated in 2010, the Center for Professional Excellence, at York College of Pennsylvania, found that 37 percent (38 percent in 2010) of corporate leaders felt that less than half of all new graduates exhibited professionalism in the workplace. Internet etiquette, the ability to accept personal responsibility, and the ability to accept constructive criticism all were found to be absent among new graduates.

Martinez offers her solution, “Create learning environments that support responsibility and group work, among teachers and students.”

“We must set a positive example,” said Fisher. “The teachers in classrooms are concerned about teaching academic subjects and do not spend the time teaching life skills. They do not provide guidance on what skills are necessary to succeed in this ever-changing world environment.”

A recent study by the Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce found that employers reported only 55 percent of entry-level employees meet or exceed expectations of preparation for the work force. Jacobs concurs, “punctuality, attendance, self-presentation – it’s appalling how little young professionals think about these things.”

Fisher reports, “With a new entry level employee who has not been employed before, we find that they do not want to assume responsibility. They want financial awards now and not have to wait for them.”

Employers’ and Educators’ Responsibility

On the other hand, employers have a responsibility too. “Employers must recognize that culture changes and the expectation of employees is different,” said Jacobs. “Employees need more flexibility and diversity of work. We need to give people time to do the things they are committed to – family, charity, those types of things. We must embrace that the workforce and the work environment is different now.”

So what can teachers and administrators do? The business professionals offered several focus areas for K-12 schools. First, teach more than knowledge; teach life skills. Prepare students for the expectations and demands of working in today’s world.

According to Fisher, economics should be taught at each level, K-12. Jacobs echoed this sentiment, “Students must learn basic financial skills. It is amazing to me that someone can understand math but not basic profit and loss and budgeting.”

As a business community, Jacobs shares, we see the statistics, and we have a real concern with getting back to basics. “But, that’s not at the expense of developing well-rounded young people.”

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