Opinion

We All Want What’s Best for America’s Youth: A Career Readiness Education

Parents across the political spectrum are concerned about schools. In a recent survey by K12 Inc. and Morning Consult, just 12 percent strongly agreed that our K-12 education system is doing enough to prepare students for their careers after graduation.

For many, this concern is rooted in what comes next: college. Our nation is now up to $1.6 trillion in student loan debt, pushing the American dream out of reach for a big part of the younger generation. Four out of 5 parents believe this student debt is a serious problem. And they want solutions that begin before high school graduation.

More than 90 percent of parents believe schools should provide increased exposure to career options and opportunities for hands-on, work-based learning. A similar number want their kids to be able to simultaneously earn college credits. Nor do they think schools should have to go it alone: Only 7 percent of parents think companies are “definitely” doing enough to help schools ensure that students are capable of launching successful careers after graduation.

Financial solutions to the student debt crisis are a big part of the ongoing presidential campaign. Elected officials are worried about a system that helped push many young people into taking on too much debt to afford colleges that cost too much money. But if all we do is help current debtors, we’re just going to see a new generation of young people facing similar fates in a few years.

The structural solution that makes the most sense is the same thing parents say they want: Career Readiness education, opportunities for dual enrollment and more input from industry experts for middle and high school students.

Fortunately, we don’t have to wait on Washington, D.C., to get started. Educators already have the tools they need to prepare students for those “new collar” jobs that require some additional training, but not necessarily a four-year degree.  In fact, 36 percent of the 55 million jobs expected to open through 2020 won’t even require education past high school, so now could not be a better time to execute the transition they’re calling for.

Thanks to modern technology, educators can give students in even the most rural parts of our nation the ability to see what career fields are out there, plus a chance to “try one on” by seeing whether it captivates them, capitalizes on their strengths and is capable of meeting their long-term financial goals.

Technology also enables us to easily engage employers in conversations about their industry’s most sought-after skills, insights that can be used to inform future curricula. In the long haul, this saves everyone time and money. Without change, college students will continue to dump tens of thousands of dollars into degree programs only to realize too late that it’s either not something they want to do, or that they don’t even need a college degree for their dream job. The ripple effects of this indecision are far reaching, with students spending more than they may have anticipated and having to wait longer to start their careers. The longer students wait, the longer employers will have to wait as well, with a shortage of skilled workers often causing them to underperform.

No one wins with our current approach, and the clock is ticking down to 2020 – we’re already halfway there. There’s nothing stopping us from pushing for Career Readiness now, and if we truly want what’s best for our children, we won’t waste any more time on inaction.

 

Shaun McAlmont is K12’s president for Career Readiness Education.

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