Our nation’s secondary schools must provide young people with the knowledge, skills, and experiences that will enable them to lead productive and fulfilling lives. In today’s economy, being “well prepared” means continuing education or training beyond high school. By the year 2020, almost two thirds of jobs, and nearly all high paying jobs, will require postsecondary education or training. A high school diploma is simply no longer enough.
State leaders across the country are addressing this by adopting more challenging, meaningful K-12 standards that will propel students toward college and career success. Their efforts to implement college- and career-ready standards must continue, but work remains to ensure that the educational experiences of young people in our schools are sufficiently rigorous and relevant to prepare them for their futures and close the skills gap evident within our labor markets.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics recently announced an unemployment rate of 5.9 percent, the equivalent of 9.3 million Americans classified as unemployed. More troubling still, 14.3 percent of our 16-24 year olds are unemployed, yet there remain 4.8 million job openings in our economy, the highest number of job vacancies since January of 2001. According to a recent survey, 54% of American companies report having openings for which they cannot find qualified workers. Our education system is clearly not keeping up with the skills demands of our knowledge-based economy.
Most states and school systems are working toward the goal of getting their students “college and career-ready,” but what we mean by “career-ready” is not always clear, and the supply of quality career-technical education programs has not kept pace with demand.
Career education in too many of our secondary schools reflects an outdated model that tolerates low expectations and is often misaligned with the evolving needs of the current labor market. The result: an increasingly pronounced skills gap that plagues American businesses as they struggle to find qualified workers and dead ends for our students who rely on career preparation programs as their ticket into the middle class.
CCSSO launched its Career Readiness Task Force in the spring of 2014 to bring a renewed focus to this issue. The task force – composed of state school chiefs, postsecondary leaders, business leaders, and career-technical education experts – analyzed leading career preparation practices in the U.S. and abroad and identified specific policies states must adopt to dramatically improve the preparation of their high school graduates.
Read more in Opportunities and Options: Making Career Preparation Work for Students, a 2014 publication of the CCSSO Task Force on Improving Career Readiness.