What can schools do to improve the E2E (education to employment) process?
The transition from school to work should act as a huge milestone in your life. It shapes your identity, pays your bills, and gives purpose to your days. It is a key stepping-stone from youth to adulthood. Except that for many youths, it feels as if this moment is never going to come. High levels of youth unemployment, a competitive market, and an inadequate training leave many students feeling completely overwhelmed and underprepared as they face the job market.
As a high school teacher, I’ve watched time and again as students scramble to figure out their next steps prior to graduation day. Some might go to university, but are still unaware of what they want to do. Others don’t even know if college is right for them, but don’t know of other options. Due to the importance that these decisions will have on students’ lives, I’ve often wondered why more emphasis isn’t placed on what we could do to support them as they undergo this huge milestone.
Fortunately, when Peter Vogel, an Assistant Professor of Entrepreneurship at the University of St. Gallen, approached me and asked whether I would like to contribute to his book, Generation Jobless? Turning the Youth Unemployment Crisis into Opportunity, we noticed that there were many practical steps schools and universities could take to better streamline the process of education to employment. We began to explore action items those in the education sector could materialize to better support students as they transition from the safe hallways of the schoolhouse into the world of work. These are five concrete action items we identified.
Awareness and Engagement
If educators are unaware of education to employment issues, or don’t see the connection between what they teach and how it could be relevant in the workplace, then the education sector will continue to remain status quo. Educators need to be made aware of what they can do to better support students, at all grade levels, to help them succeed as adults. For example, boosting student engagement, promoting career readiness, enabling skill building, and incorporating activities that encourage life long learning are just a few of the areas educators can emphasis to help their students be better prepared for the workforce.
Once awareness has been generated, educators should be encouraged to help design solutions that would address education to employment issues. By working with educators, communities, corporations, and policy leaders can develop practical ways to address specific issues impacting our youths (e.g. how to provide more apprenticeship opportunities to youths).
Change Daily Practice
The content and delivery of curriculum are prime examples of how we could alleviate some education to employment issues. In many circumstances, curriculum could be better adapted to address 21st century demands. By focusing more on relevant themes and values, schools could tailor instruction to address the skills mismatch, a common complaint amongst employers. To complement this, schools could also transition their focus from knowledge-based standards to skills-based standards. Employers now want to see students who can demonstrate that their abilities and skills go beyond basic knowledge. This requires schools to employ more efficient and dynamic teaching methodologies that encourage young people to use and apply the knowledge they receive. Given new trends in pedagogy, like challenge-based learning, gamification, and flipped classrooms, and new learning tools and resources, this could easily be materialized in many schools with dynamic training and development programs.
Create a culture of innovation (Practice like you play)
Instead of creating a new class of job seekers, school and universities should also strive to produce job creators. This signifies promoting an entrepreneurial mindset (not to be confused with your typical course on entrepreneurship). In order to build this mindset, education systems should allow students to practice like they’ll play. Personalized learning initiatives should be encouraged. Dynamic programs on topics like leadership, creativity, and changemaking should become commonplace in our education systems. In addition, schools and universities should do more to utilize the physical outlets they have for innovation. Makerspaces, libraries, and innovation labs would all be apt spaces to support risk-taking and creative thinking.
Create an Ecosystem
Education providers should lead the way in creating Education to Employment (E2E) ecosystems. Every secondary school should be equipped with a career services department that can promote career readiness, create awareness about external opportunities and programs for students, and assist students with finding employment prospects. This department would be expected to collaborate with government bodies and employers thus engendering a collaborative framework to better support students as they transition from school to work. It would also ensure that young people are already strategically thinking about their futures well before graduation day.
Generate new outlets for success
Schools can no longer afford to emphasize university as the only means to attain job mobility. While university will always be an invaluable institution, it excludes too many youths, and those excluded often struggle to find suitable employment. Moreover, an emphasis on academicization forces schools to focus more on testing and less on relevant topics that would help students in the real world. Considering that the majority of the world’s youths will not attend university, we need to provide practical skills and knowledge and new outlets that would better prepare young people to be in charge of their own future regardless of labor market obstacles.
Of course, these are just a few of the transformations that schools might need to undergo to better prepare students for the workplace and they will need external support to do so. Inadequate funding and resources, the overuse of standardized testing, overworked teachers, lack of collaboration, and stigmas against vocational training are just a handful of obstacles that can prevent education systems from moving forward. We must work together to overcome these obstacles so that we can best materialize efforts that allow youths to find their place in the job market.
Every student should be able to reach that milestone and find work. As a society, we need to refocus our efforts in education and clearly define the expected outcomes we want for our youths. One of the main functions of education should be to enable students to have a bright future. This signifies adequately preparing them with the skills they’ll need for the 21st century and providing them with opportunities to find work. Together we should be able to materialize such simple goals; it is just a matter of supporting one another with such efforts.