College & Workforce Readiness Letter to the Editor

Workers Need Preparation and Purpose

June 13, 2023 1 min read
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To the Editor:

Anthony P. Carnevale’s essay, “The Nation Is Still at Risk: The Urgency of Workforce Preparation,” (April 28, 2023) is remarkable. Carnevale is right that we need a radical rethinking of how we cultivate skills in this country; that the current system impedes human flourishing and keeps individuals from reaching their potential; and that we must better integrate career and technical education across states and systems.

But there is also something more fundamental driving the skills mismatch that Carnevale notes is persistent in our country.

Carnevale observes, “Our present system leaves a lot to chance.” Yes!—because it prioritizes the needs of the system over the dignity of the individual and, therefore, limits a person’s ability to build learning pathways based on their unique aptitudes and interests. Nor does it consider the ultimate end goal: for each person to not only find a good job and earn a good living but to also find purpose in their lives.

Five years ago, BetterUp released a study that determined 9 in 10 Americans would take reduced pay in exchange for a more meaningful job. We’ve seen similar studies since then, including Populace’s American Workforce Index, an opinion survey of what the American public wants when it comes to work.

Organizations like the Make It Movement and the University of Maryland’s Intentional Life Lab are getting it right: Before talking about where to go to build skills, these organizations help students discover the work pathways that will inspire them.

There’s a lot riding on this shift for employers. McKinsey & Co. has warned, “Help your employees find purpose—or watch them leave.” But there’s more riding on it for workers. The country is facing an epidemic of burnout at work and, worse, addiction and depression.

As Carnevale said, “We cannot afford to wait.”

Ryan Stowers
Executive Director
Charles Koch Foundation
Arlington, Va.

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A version of this article appeared in the June 14, 2023 edition of Education Week as Workers Need Preparation and Purpose


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