School & District Management

The Workforce Is Changing. Are K-12 Schools Keeping Up?

By Alyson Klein — September 19, 2019 3 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

The needs of the workforce have transformed dramatically thanks to technological changes, globalization, and demographic shifts. But K-12 schools, post-secondary institutions, and job-training organizations are preparing students for jobs using essentially the same set of strategies they’ve been relying on for decades.

That’s the message from a report released Thursday by the RAND Corporation

At the same time, employers are struggling to find workers with so-called ‘21st-century skills’ such as the ability to synthesize information, creativity, problem-solving, communication, and teamwork. Yet the path forward is not easy for workers looking to upgrade their skills due to automation or shifting consumer demands.

“Employers are saying they can’t find employees with the skills they need, and on the other end you have workers whose jobs have been made less relevant,” said Melanie Zaber, an associate economist at RAND, a nonprofit research organization based in Santa Monica, Calif.

Most of those out-of-work individuals aren’t recent high school or even college graduates, however. Many of them are middle-aged workers, who worked in shrinking industries such as retail and manufacturing, she said.

The blame shouldn’t be all on schools, the RAND report emphasizes. Employers, and education and job training institutions don’t do a great job of systematically sharing information with schools that would allow them to better prepare students for the changing needs of the workforce. Plus, funding for K-12 education isn’t equally distributed and often neglects the areas that need strong pre-career training the most.

What also makes progress difficult is that high school principals rarely get to see how their students are doing years after they leave the classroom, Zaber said. In fact, educators often never hear whether their students needed remediation when they enrolled in community college, studies have found. Some states—including Kentucky, Minnesota, and New Jersey—are trying to change this reality by creating data systems that track students from high school into the workforce, Zaber said.

“Letting high school principals see what happens when students leave their doors can help inform policy for where the gaps are, where the barriers are, where students are being let down,” Zaber said. “That can help inform policy.”

High schools also need to do a better job informing students who might not be interested in attending a four-year college about fast-growing careers that require an associate degree or less education, such as home health aides, or jobs in carpentry and construction, she added.

Some states are trying to meet the future needs of the workforce by creating standards for growing areas, like computational thinking and digital literacy, Zaber said, including Arkansas, Indiana, and Virginia.

RAND would also like to see states, districts, post-secondary institutions, and employers provide equitable access to workforce training opportunities. That means stronger connections between school systems and training providers and employers.

For K-12 systems, that means promoting life-long learning skills so that students will be prepared to pursue additional training if and when their jobs become obsolete. And it means making information about the full range of career possibilities, including the cost of training and salary information, readily available. After K-12, it means providing “multiple on-ramps” to help workers get retrained, including through labor unions and unemployment services.

Want more on the future of work? Check out this report.

Image: Getty


Related Tags:

A version of this news article first appeared in the Digital Education blog.


Commenting has been disabled on edweek.org effective Sept. 8. Please visit our FAQ section for more details. To get in touch with us visit our contact page, follow us on social media, or submit a Letter to the Editor.


Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Teaching Webinar
What’s Next for Teaching and Learning? Key Trends for the New School Year
The past 18 months changed the face of education forever, leaving teachers, students, and families to adapt to unprecedented challenges in teaching and learning. As we enter the third school year affected by the pandemic—and
Content provided by Instructure
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Curriculum Webinar
How Data and Digital Curriculum Can Drive Personalized Instruction
As we return from an abnormal year, it’s an educator’s top priority to make sure the lessons learned under adversity positively impact students during the new school year. Digital curriculum has emerged from the pandemic
Content provided by Kiddom
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Equity & Diversity Webinar
Leadership for Racial Equity in Schools and Beyond
While the COVID-19 pandemic continues to reveal systemic racial disparities in educational opportunity, there are revelations to which we can and must respond. Through conscientious efforts, using an intentional focus on race, school leaders can
Content provided by Corwin

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

School & District Management 10 Ways to Tackle Education's Urgent Challenges
As the school year gets underway, we ask hard questions about education’s biggest challenges and offer some solutions.
2 min read
Conceptual Image of schools preparing for the pandemic
Pep Montserrat for Education Week
School & District Management Reported Essay Principals Need Social-Emotional Support, Too
By overlooking the well-being of their school leaders, districts could limit how much their schools can flourish.
7 min read
Conceptual Illustration
Pep Montserrat for Education Week
School & District Management From Our Research Center Educator Stress, Anti-Racism, and Pandemic Response: How You're Feeling
A new nationally representative survey offers key takeaways from teachers, principals, and district leaders.
EdWeek Research Center
1 min read
2021 BI COVER no text DATA crop
Pep Montserrat for Education Week
School & District Management Download 8 Tips for Building a Digital Learning Plan That Conquers Chaos
Craft flexible strategies, encourage experimentation with new instructional models, and regularly solicit feedback.
1 min read
onsr edtech tips
Getty