10 min read

Education Meets Employment: The Need for Collaboration

If there was one unscripted through line at our Horizons summit last June, it was the near universal sentiment that all of the stakeholders in the learn-to-work ecosystem must work together to build a future in which all learners, workers, and employers can succeed.

As Kaya Henderson, former chancellor of the District of Columbia Public Schools and current CEO of Reconstruction, a Black education platform, told Horizons attendees, “It actually takes the proverbial village . . . all of us have a role to play.”

Henderson offered that observation in a Horizons session in which she and College Board CEO David Coleman discussed the need for stronger, more equitable connections between high school, postsecondary education, and work to improve the career navigation services available to learners and workers.

We take an in-depth look at the topic of collaboration among the key players in the “proverbial village” in the second episode of our Horizons podcast. Host Tameshia Bridges Mansfield shares the insights of a community college system leader who urges us to measure results and track outcomes to identify the programs and pathways that are effective—and those that aren’t. Listeners will also hear the CEO of an education technology company who calls for nothing less than full integration of the education and workforce development systems. And a tech executive says collaboration is essential if we want to create a more inclusive, equitable, and demand-driven employment landscape.

Driven in part by the pandemic, the worlds of education and work are experiencing unprecedented change. Listen to the second episode of the Horizons podcast to hear more from experts from various sectors of the ecosystem as they encourage us to seize the moment together to achieve game-changing results.

If you’d like to watch the full Horizons sessions with Kaya Henderson and David Coleman, visit our Horizons 2021 on-demand library


Tameshia: Hi. I'm Tameshia Bridges Mansfield, vice president for Workforce Innovation at Jobs for the Future, also known as JFF. And this is Horizons. In this special podcast series, we'll share the best and brightest highlights from JFF's annual Horizons summit, a national gathering of influencers dedicated to reimagining the future of learning and work and leaving the past where it belongs—behind us. We'll hear from a diverse range of experts, many with unconventional points of view representing private industry, government, philanthropy, nonprofits, and educational institutions focused on aligning people, places, and systems to drive economic advancement for all.

Kaya Henderson, CEO of Reconstruction: And I think we now have to make the match and remind ourselves that it's not just schools, our school systems or institutions of higher education—that it actually takes the proverbial village that all of us have a role to play, including employers, including the college board, including school systems in preparing our young people.

Tameshia: It's never been more important to prepare and connect people to work across the life span for a successful career. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that over 7.7 million Americans were unemployed and seeking work in September of this year. And while there continues to be a labor shortage in certain sectors, the workforce is increasingly competitive. Employers are looking to hire candidates with talent aptitude and unique skill sets so they can hit the ground running and make a big impact right out of the gate. However, there's often a disconnect between the curriculum taught in postsecondary institutions and other educational settings versus the skills new hires are expected to be equipped with prior to starting a new role. Is it on education providers to teach students these skills before they enter the job market, or should it be the responsibility of the employer to provide the training and resources new hires need to succeed or both. The answer is to focus on solutions and build a better path forward together. The best way to prepare all learners for successful careers in the industry of their choosing is to facilitate connection and collaboration across companies, educational institutions and other stakeholders to ensure everyone has an equitable chance of success.

In this episode, we'll explore the gaps between education and employment and how improving alignment will require transformation across systems and institutions. As technology continues to advance rapidly, so does its impact on education and workforce development. As the workforce changes, the education system will also need to shift to accommodate new ways of developing learners and workers of all ages. In a panel discussion called New Approaches to Aligning Postsecondary Education and Work at the Horizons conference in June 2021, Michael Baston, president of Rockland Community College in Suffern, New York, and the co-chair of JFF's Policy Leadership Trust, discussed the importance of thinking outside the box when it comes to preparing people for the workforce. He also emphasized the need to measure results to see which strategies are working and which ones are less effective.

Michael: The reality is we want to make sure that people are doing better as a result of participating in any kind of educational opportunity that leads them to the families supporting ways that they need in the lives that they deserve. And so the real question is, to what extent are the different players connecting with the ecosystem of opportunity at? To me, is a metric that we don't really see often. You know, what are the ways in which we are collaborating with higher ed K-to-12 business and industry to ensure that the people within the communities are meeting the job vacancies and that the low wage worker doesn't stay a low wage worker, that we don't have academic programs that are bridges to nowhere, but that they're actually going to lead people on a ladder to higher levels of opportunity. To what extent are we getting people on the ladder? So what outreach are we doing to adult learners? We often talk about, you know, who haven't completed credentials and things like that. We have millions of Americans who have some college and no degree, but they've got lots of experience. So to what extent are we giving them credit for prior learning? And to what extent are we doing the upskilling and the retooling? And how are we using traditional and nontraditional educational resources in more integrated, collaborative ways to positively impact the viability of the region? And so to me, it is not, you know, it can only be higher ed, it can only be an entrepreneur, it can only be, you know, business and industry creating their own credentials that we have to find sort of the ecosystem of opportunity in regions and opportunities where we can move people from the lowest to better standing to middle-class opportunities. And I think that there's space for all of us to begin to work in this way.

Tameshia: During the same conversation, Sabari Raja, the cofounder and CEO of Nepris, a platform that connects educators and learners to industry experts, highlighted the importance of integrating the education system and the workforce. She noted that making use of appropriate technology platforms can help to streamline this relationship and strengthen partnerships across institutions.

Sabari: I mean, I want to point the audience to this entangle solutions report that actually points to the three pillars of career. Now you have occupation identities, skills and social capital. And our focus has always been how can industry and employers instead of at the very end, saying, okay, people are not coming up with the skills or the necessary knowledge to take these jobs exist, how can we proactively engage them in what I call first exposure? You know, before we go to last mile, students do not ask for something they don't know exist. So we need to broaden the occupation identity. What is the role of employers in getting engaged at that level and giving students that exposure to begin with? It is not solely the job of the College of Education institution. There has to be applied partnership with industry and education, and that's where technology tools like ours come in is. It's easier said than done. You probably heard many lunch-and-learns where you can point to the table and amazing conversations. It was a great networking event for everybody in the room. And then there's not actually the next step for how to engage with the students. That's really where having technology platforms and established models for engagement can really help us, not just higher education institutions even keep kids requiring all educational institutions that are building their local and global employer community and have established ways of engaging them with students in order to support them on all those three pillars skills, occupation, identity, and social capital.

Tameshia: What's more, Baston reiterated the fact that the epidemic has led to fundamental changes in every area and education is no exception. If we hope to build an equitable future, we need to recognize this fact and continue to ride the waves of change instead of resisting.

Michael: Now in higher education where we are already in reset. You know, we are already beginning to do some of the work that we haven't done in the past and that has given rise to new players in the space. But I wouldn't certainly count out the power that the higher education ecosystem has as we get into more equitable transfer conversations between two- and four-year spaces. As we get into the dual degree program, dual admission programs with high school. As we begin to build out our influence in both directions and where possible, partnering with others in the space. The reality is we're not going back and there may be some that would love to go back. But the truth is higher education is not the only place hitting the reset button. Business and industry is hitting the reset button. All facets of life in some measure are hitting the reset button. And we like any other part of the ecosystem want to be at moving in the right directions. And I do believe over time we will continue to rise to the occasion as we rose to the occasion in this instance.

Tameshia: Michael was spot on with the points he made during the discussion. Like it or not, we're never going back to pre-pandemic times, but in many ways, this is a good thing for the business world. And another discussion from Horizon's 2021 called Catalyzing the Ecosystem for Inclusive Economic Recovery. JFF CEO, Maria Flynn sat down with Lisa Gevelber, chief marketing officer at Google and vice president of the company’s initiative Grow With Google. Lisa noted that the pandemic accelerated many of the trends we were already seeing in the workforce while widening the skills gap. Having launched their first Google career certificate in 2018, the company recently expanded the program to help prepare people for lucrative careers in tech, design, data analytics and more, regardless of their educational backgrounds.

Lisa: And of course, the folks without college degrees have been the most impacted from the current economic crisis. On top of that, there was already a crazy big skills gap. Two-thirds of jobs today require medium or even high levels of digital skills, but that's not necessarily what's present in the workforce, and you can see that this is also really an issue for employers, too. If you read PwC recent survey of CEOs, you see that four out of five CEOs say that the lack of certain essential skills is a big barrier and a concern for them about the future growth of their entire companies. And so clearly, the situation has accelerated these trends and these trends are something we all have to deal with because we want to create a more inclusive and equitable employment landscape, and it's not going to happen by itself. So that's why we jumped in with our Google Career Certificates. We had actually launched our first one in the beginning of 2018. We launched a Google Career Certificate in IT Support. And since that time, we've graduated over 50,000 people into that career field. And so we were able in the past year to really accelerate our investment in this area by adding new career fields. And we choose fields that are in demand, high growing fields that pay really well. On average, the fields that we give the Google Career Certificates and have an entry-level income of $69,000 or more. And there's 1.3 million open jobs right now in the U.S. in these fields of IT support, data analytics, user experience design, and project management. And so what we're doing is really helping close the skills gap by providing training to folks in these high-demand fields. But I think what's really the most important thing is we're having real success with nontraditional talent graduating from our program. So 53 percent of our graduates come from underrepresented populations, 60 percent of them do not have any sort of college degree. And 46 percent of our graduates actually come from the lowest income tertile in the country and are graduating into these high-paying career fields. So clearly lots more work to do. But we're seeing so much promise in our success to date and getting folks real economic mobility.

Tameshia: In another discussion from the Horizons 2021 donference, Kaya Henderson, former chancellor of the District of Columbia Public Schools and current CEO of Reconstruction, a Black education platform, also stressed the need for cross-sector collaboration when it comes to prepping youth for impactful careers. Preparing for a successful career starts before postsecondary education, and it’s time all pieces of the puzzle come together to recognize this.

Kaya: This is the challenge we are trying to prepare young people to not only change the trajectory of their own lives or their families, families' lives or their communities, but to change the world, and we can't do that unless we provide them with a plethora of options. I think the pandemic has showed us that young people are ready to step up in new ways. They've been industrious when systems have failed us. Parents have stepped up and employers have stepped up. And I think we now have to make the match and remind ourselves that it's not just schools, our school systems or institutions of higher education that it actually takes the proverbial village that all of us have a role to play, including employers, including the college board, including school systems, in preparing our young people.

Tameshia: Kaya also focused on the importance of exposing young people to the different career paths that are available to them and allowing them the space and freedom to explore their passions from a young age.

Kaya: This is what we know about how people learn, right? How you learn is you find something that you're passionate about and then you throw yourself into that and you find out everything about it and you learn how to do it well. And we've got to help our schools understand that that is part of the work. I mean, I have gone on record as saying we need to blow up American high schools because in fact, I'm not exactly sure what they're preparing young people for, but they don't do enough to expose young people to the careers that are out there. They don't do enough to connect learning to job opportunities that we just I mean, we opened a number of career academies with the National Academy Foundation as I was leading DC public schools that expose young people to careers in the environmental sciences and computer sciences, in hospitality and tourism, and in construction trades and health allied trades because those were the local examples of high wage, high growth industries. And so we can walk and chew gum at the same time, we can prepare kids for deeply academic experiences at colleges and four-year colleges and universities. We can also expose them and help them develop their passions while they're in high school. But it's going to mean that high school has to be very different. Right now, we're focused on how much time children sit in a seat, not mastery of concepts, not exposure to new ideas and experiences. And in fact, at this particular moment in our history, we are seeing state legislatures enact laws to stop young people from having the kinds of critical conversations that are going to prepare them both for the university and for careers. What do we do in this moment?

Tameshia: The speakers featured in this episode made some great points about the pursuit of passions, goals, the nature of learning, and the need for reform in our educational system. There are plenty of insights from these discussions, but here are some of my key takeaways. One, when it comes to prepping learners for successful, fulfilling and lucrative careers throughout their lives, collaboration is key. All sectors need to come together to create a streamlined and integrated process, whether it's kindergarten to postsecondary or workforce training and lifelong learning. There is a critical need for the education system and employers to collaborate so we can equip people for success through life's transitions. Two, finding a way to measure results is an important tool for navigating change. As Baston suggested, we should all be keeping tabs on the strategies that are most effective in education, training, and development so we can continue to leverage them going forward. Because you can't fix a problem you don't know you have. And three, passion often marks the beginning stages of success, as Kaya Henderson noted, giving young people the space and freedom to explore their passions provides the foundation for an impactful and fulfilling career. Thanks for listening to the Horizons podcast brought to you by JFF. Together, we're building a future that works and inspiring others to fight for equality, diversity, and inclusivity everywhere.

Make sure to subscribe, rate, and review the podcast and tune in to our next monthly episode. To learn more about Horizons or watch the full sessions featured in today's episode. Visit us online at Jff.org/horizons.

I'm Tameshia Bridges Mansfield. From Jobs for the Future. See you next time.


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