The Importance of Career Readiness and Authentic Business Engagement
Imagine interviewing a candidate who lacks interpersonal skills and has less-than-average communication abilities. Immediately, the candidate may be moved to the bottom stack of applicants, regardless of his or her education and experience.
The cost to the individual may be a lost job opportunity, but there is also a cost to the community when students aren’t being taught “soft skills” valued by employers. Potentially, communities can face higher unemployment and underemployment, missed economic development and recruitment opportunities, and a potential loss of an important tax base.
Critical thinking, teamwork, problem solving, professionalism, creativity, etiquette, public speaking, cultural competency and other "soft skills" are terms often used in discussions about career readiness. Career readiness is often perceived as an opportunity to prepare students for jobs in silos and futures where college doesn’t exist, but this is not true with today’s model of Career Technical Education.
These skills are necessary to be competitive not only in careers, but also when pursuing a postsecondary education, as students navigate through the complexity of higher education systems during a time when independence is vital. Transferable or employability skills provide students with a competitive edge during interviews and internships for current and future careers. These abilities can differentiate a good employee from a great one.
In a recent survey of Business Roundtable members, 98 percent of CEOs report that finding candidates with the competencies and training to fill open positions is a problem, affecting all skill levels needed – from entry-level to the highly technical. As the baby boomer generation enters the retirement phase, with the youngest boomers turning 53 in 2017 and exiting the workforce, on average, at 62, we have less than a decade to realize the impact their exit will have on the workplace. As a result, there will be some unmet expectations of employers as the generation gap widens in the workplace.
While many educational systems agree that high school students should be provided multiple pathways to success after high school, there is evidence that these skills are what employers need as we prepare for the next generation of employees.
The Career Readiness Partner Council was established in 2012 to focus on intentional work around a common career readiness theme. Building Blocks for Change: What it Means to be Career Ready has continued to be discussed, even as the ACT has begun to issue career-ready indicators for the first time.
The Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce has been in continuous conversation with employers about strategic partnerships with high schools and universities as a component of our K-12 workforce initiatives in order to bridge the skills gaps and ensure the right conversations are happening at each level.
As one Chamber member shared during an interview about hiring for his health care technology company, “As long as they are critically thinking, problem solving, and have the right attitude ... we will train them on the technology they need training on, that’s not an issue.”
Here are some ways the Nashville Chamber is supporting business engagement in K-12 education to ensure students are career-ready:
- Invests: Chamber staff time, in-kind resources, connections and funding for initiatives that are meaningful, relevant, and aligned with the school district’s vision to improve economic prosperity in the region through student achievement.
- Builds capacity: Facilitates community leadership to create economic prosperity by regularly convening the business community around education policy and quality schools. We are regarded as a "thought partner" with the school district.
- Fosters accountable talk with school district leaders, policy-makers, and the Tennessee Department of Education: Focus on being at the table and doesn’t wait for an invitation to drive change in educational reform at the district or state level. Issues an annual Education Report Card led by Chamber members through a comprehensive review of school district performance with annual recommendations for improvement. For the most recent report, see here.
- Fosters authentic partnerships: Assists with developing best practices around quality partnerships in schools, helping business see through the lens of education and educators see their curricula through the lens of business.
- Identifies talent pipeline gaps: Works with the school district’s smaller learning communities to create homegrown training programs for students through industry certification attainment and multiple experiential learning opportunities. The Academies of Nashville were implemented in 2007 and have since become a national model.
- Provides relevant data to the school district: Uses Chamber research and resources to drive change in education based on future community needs.
The first step the business community can take in ensuring students are career-ready is to have engaging conversations with local districts, state departments, and schools to determine initiatives already in place. Then, business can help create a specific plan where students have all the support available within the community to help them succeed.
There are many factors that play into having a prepared workforce. However, if communities invest in working with K-12 students, they will be in a much better position to create a grassroots pipeline of talent that can fill available jobs.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Candy Johnson is Director of Policy, Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce