Bridging the Gap Between High School and the Work Force

While the focus on college and career readiness in our education system is not a new idea, and while progress has been made, students overall are still not adequately prepared for life after high school. According to research published last year by Achieve — a nonprofit education reform organization dedicated to raising academic standards and graduation requirements, improve assessments, and strengthen accountability — roughly half of all high schoolers report gaps in high school preparation and the working world.

High schoolers are not the only ones shouldering the consequences of this lack of preparation though. Employers across the country are agreeing that there is a disconnect between the skills that graduates have and the skills that they need. Common themes are lack of “soft skills” such as effective communication, team work, punctuality, etc., as well as a lack of knowledge in critical STEM areas such as basic math and science prerequisite skills. Scott McLemore, technical workforce development manager for Honda North America, Inc., has experienced this in his industry first-hand and discusses how, “There is a severe shortage of people entering the manufacturing field, so much so that it could eventually result in millions of jobs going unfilled due to either a lack of interest, or a lack of the required skills.”

So how do we go about building this bridge? One promising solution is through partnerships between high schools and institutions of higher education. An excellent example of this is P-TECH, a public high school in Brooklyn, NY. These partnerships have been made to meet the growing demand for job candidates with STEM skills. Through this model, students spend six years taking both standard high school courses and classes specifically focused on a certain profession. These credits can amount to an associate degree as well as an industry-specific certification upon graduation. The goal is to have students earn college credit sooner while simultaneously gaining hands on experience. The result of this has been nothing short of optimistic. For example, in 2014 the four-year high school graduation rate for early college students in New York was 86.9 percent, compared with the citywide average of 68.4 percent, and of 205 seniors who graduated this past year, 57 earned an associate degree.

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