How Businesses Can Help Prepare Our Students For The Challenges Of Tomorrow

July 21, 2016

Takeaways

U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation's new report focuses on providing students with the innovation skills they need.

Have you ever sat during a lecture and wondered how a math or physics principle actually applied to real life?

Have you ever had an internship where you spent the bulk of your time on administrative tasks like filing papers?

As I write this blog, I think about how my day-to-day work relates to the education I received. One could not be further from the other. I currently work as a member of a diverse and intergenerational team where I’m expected to adapt to changing opportunities and challenges. Reflecting on my education pathway, I remember mostly sitting in a classroom, working individually (and dreading group work), and pursuing abstract knowledge and concepts found in books and on the web. How can we bridge this glaring divide?

In today’s economy, companies increasingly compete on innovation. They are in a constant state of improving, adapting, and reinventing themselves, which requires a larger number of workers who can drive innovation. In this environment, employees at every level find themselves in a race against routine work. They must now have the innovation skills necessary to work in teams, think critically, solve problems, and drive solutions.

At the same time, there is a growing interest in preparing students for professions by strengthening career and technical education programs and expanding access to work-based learning opportunities. These experiences, however, may reflect the needs of the past rather than the workforce of the future.

Today’s workforce, for example, requires individuals to work as members of diverse teams and across multiple job functions. It is not enough to possess a narrow skill set. Workers need breadth and depth in terms of knowledge and skills to be effective team members and drive innovation across the company.

Today’s workforce, for example, requires individuals to work as members of diverse teams and across multiple job functions. It is not enough to possess a narrow skill set. Workers need breadth and depth in terms of knowledge and skills to be effective team members and drive innovation across the company. Yet, our current models for education instruction and work-based learning experiences often reinforce occupational silos instead of breaking them down.

High-quality work-based learning is notoriously difficult to implement broadly. Developing a systemic way of providing this opportunity to a critical mass of students remains elusive for many reasons, including inflexible scheduling at schools, transportation barriers, and limited positions available by area businesses.

We need a new approach to preparing our future workforce that better reflects the modern organization of work and addresses the limitations of scaling work-based learning.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation released a report titled Competing on Innovation: Disrupting the Education Enterprise to Build Tomorrow’s Talent, Today. It focuses on providing students with the innovation skills they need through business-sponsored challenges.

Innovation challenges have several defining features. They are:  

  • Authentic and represent a real-world problem sponsored by a company or industry.
  • Student-centered and team-based involving multiple disciplines.
  • Guided by business partners serving as mentors and teachers who play a supporting role.

Challenges can reach multiple teams of students and schools much more easily with numerous employers sponsoring projects. Nevertheless, this requires a new infrastructure to organize, manage, and disseminate experiences across the country. We believe business associations are well positioned to create regional or multistate platforms that encourage greater access to and participation in employer-sponsored challenges that drive innovation in the economy.  

To access the paper or learn more about the Youth Employment initiative, visit www.YouthEmploymentWorks.org.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jason Tyszko is executive director, policy and programs at USCCF's Center for Education and Workforce.