Redefining Education to Meet 21st Century Workforce Needs

I read an interesting article highlighting groundbreaking secondary education programs that have been shown to better prepare students for success in the world of work. What sets these programs apart is an effective partnership with the business community, and alignment of educational priorities with the needs of future.

One such program highlighted was the National Academy Foundation, a national network of Career Academies for underserved high school students. These Academies provide high-quality learning opportunities linked to growing industries including Health Sciences, Finance, Information Technology, Engineering, Hospitality and Tourism. For example, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, job growth in the health care and social assistance industry is expected to grow by nearly 5 million jobs over the next 10 years due in large part to our aging population. Growing careers include physician assistants, nurse practitioners and physical therapists. Students who choose to participate in Career Academies have access to industry-specific curricula, work-based learning experiences, and relationships with business professionals.

As a member of the Board of the National Academy Foundation (NAF) I have seen first-hand how public/private partnerships can increase both college and career readiness. I am also involved in creating the Health Sciences career theme and curricula. Of the more than 50,000 students who attend 565 NAF Academies across the country each year, 96 percent graduate on time, and four out of five go on to post-secondary education. In addition, 85 percent of five- and 10-year alumni are working in professional fields. 

Today, businesses face increased competition, compounded by the rapid pace of change, and technological breakthroughs. Employers, public and private, find themselves redefining the very nature of work. Future workers will need a common set of applied skills including: critical thinking, communication, creativity, leadership and multi-cultural competence, as well as business literacy and knowledge of market-based economies. If we are to effectively compete in the global economy, we also must shore up our STEM education, which includes the fields of science, engineering, technology and mathematics. 

As we shape the next wave of workers, unlocking their potential is essential to our country’s long-term economic growth and prosperity. Aligning our educational systems to support both academic achievement and career readiness is an important step in that process. 

Programs such as the National Academy Foundation are taking us in the right direction. I applaud not only the forward-thinking educators and business leaders, but the hard-working students as well. As a country, our future prosperity will depend on these talented individuals to be ready and able to compete in an increasingly global economy.