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Rick Hess Straight Up

Education policy maven Rick Hess of the American Enterprise Institute think tank offers straight talk on matters of policy, politics, research, and reform. Read more from this blog.

Education Opinion

What Employers Really Want From Our Schools

By Guest Blogger — November 09, 2015 2 min read
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Note: The National Network of State Teachers of the Year (NNSTOY) will be blogging this week. Up first is Alex Kajitani, the 2009 California State Teacher of the Year, and author of Owning It, which was named “Recommended Reading” by the U.S. Department of Education.

Sometimes we learn the most about education by seeing it through the eyes of the people outside of it.

Last month, I had the opportunity to deliver the closing keynote address at a large leadership conference for Human Resources professionals across the Pacific Northwest. After the keynote, I held a smaller breakout session, where I led a group of these HR pros through an exercise examining the connection between how we’re educating our students, and how they’re showing up in the workforce.

I asked them: As HR professionals, what do you need from the K-12 system to better prepare your employees for success in the workplace?

Sitting in this room were executives from some of our country’s largest companies (like Nike) to small, growing startups. And I did get some of the expected answers (better written communication, less need for constant praise. . . ). However, I also got a surprise when these pros were overwhelmingly in agreement about three other traits they need:

We need people to show up on time.

“Wait, really? You mean your employees aren’t showing up on time?” I asked. Yes, they nodded in agreement. One attendee told me that her company spent a considerable amount of time tracking down employees who called in sick because they forgot the part about calling in, and simply didn’t show up that day.

We need people to be able to work in teams.

“But not the kind of teams where they get to pick their friends, and only work with people they like,” one of the session participants said emphatically. “We need them to work cooperatively right from the start, with the team that has been put together, in order to hit the goal.”

We need people to be empathetic.

“Our company is successful because we employ lots of different personality types,” one director told me. “As a result, we have people who are eccentric, emotional, or reserved. Whether it is part of their work or personal life, everybody goes through things, and we need the people around them to be empathetic, and understand what others are going through.”

As educators, fostering confident, capable young people who are college-and-career ready is clearly one of our goals. . . and one of our challenges.

We also know that teaching these traits is not the sole responsibility of teachers alone. And let’s be honest: The ability to show up on time, work in a team and be empathetic can vary as much from class-to-class as it does from home-to-home, and company-to-company. At the National Network of State Teachers of the Year (NNSTOY), we’re working to build teachers that develop this college-and-career ready culture in their classrooms and across our schools.

In a time of rapidly increasing technology and access to information, it’s a valuable reminder — and opportunity for us as educators — to hear that punctuality, teamwork and empathy remain at the core of what drives true success in the organizational workplace today.

--Alex Kajitani

The opinions expressed in Rick Hess Straight Up are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.