As school ends and commencement addresses are given, two pieces of data caught my eye recently. Only 56 percent of law school graduates are getting jobs commensurate with their education. And there are 3 million jobs currently unfilled in the U.S.
By ROBERT WESTFALL
Special to The Star
So what explains the disconnect between a large number of highly educated workers unable to find jobs and the millions of openings out there right now? The answer is skills. Or more precisely, having the specialized skills that fit with the jobs employers need to fill.
The short-term challenge is to get the people who need work to acquire the skills that employers are seeking. In 2010, President Barack Obama made this a major focus, and from that came Skills for Americas Future, which brings employers and community colleges together to design curriculum around skills for specific types of jobs.
The majority of these jobs are in the skilled trades, yet it wouldnt be hard to build programs around the needs of information technology companies, tech start-ups and 21st century manufacturing firms. With a strong network of community colleges and online schools and a diverse industry base here in Kansas City, our leaders should be making connections with initiatives such as Skills for Americas Future a top priority.
The long-term challenge is a more complex one as it revolves around an open discussion about what education is and how it should be provided. Helping those already in the workforce get the new skills they need to find quality employment only fixes the problem after the fact. It doesnt address the system that leads to the problem in the first place. And for that we have to start at the earliest stages of education.
I think most people would say that education shouldnt be some Orwellian endeavor in which we produce robotlike workers with limited skills and experiences. But I think most people would agree that individuals have abilities and interests that make them better suited for some jobs over others.
Weve all heard stories of successful people who found their true passion and talent from the help of a teacher who had taken notice when nobody else had. We need to create a system and culture of education in which such self-discovery doesnt just happen serendipitously but rather is the core focus of education. This can only come from an early exposure to a rich and diverse set of study, including art and music, science, math, design, writing and more.
Once this discovery occurs, the curriculum the student receives should be tailored around providing him or her with skills and training that can be applied to the jobs of the future. And testing should be revamped into a competency-based model using demonstrations of knowledge in real-world environments, opposed to the rote memorization and question-and-answer models we have used for decades.
Of course peoples interests change over time, and some of us make a conscious decision to ignore our natural born attributes to pursue a different path in life. That is what makes us human.
But with this approach, students will get a well-rounded exposure to ideas and critical thinking in addition to marketable skills and training that they can rely on. This is the kind of adaptive, student-focused approach to education that will make the need to address short-term skill deficiencies a thing of the past and not the future.
Robert Westfall of Kansas City is the founder and chief strategist of Instinct, an innovation firm. To reach him, send email to email@example.com or write to Midwest Voices, c/o Editorial Page, The Kansas City Star, 1729 Grand Blvd., Kansas City, MO 64108.