Workforce of Tomorrow: How Can We Prepare All Youth for Future Work Success?

Article excerpt

The workforce of tomorrow is growing up today. Unfortunately, many youth are not getting the education or experience they need to succeed as they enter the work world. Education. In 2002, I wrote about Daniel Pink, the author of Free Agent Nation, and his cry for a new U.S. education system to coincide with the new way people are working. Freedom, flexibility, and self-determination are absent from schools that look just as they did 40 years ago, (with the exception of some new technology), Pink said.

"Education Evolution," Intelligence (April 2002 T+D)

A recent trend alert from the Herman Group agrees with Pink's assessment. The futurists say employers are "practically begging" for young workers who can "think, collaborate, communicate, coordinate, and create." To address that need, schools will shift from teaching facts to teaching critical thinking, problem solving, and other applied knowledge and process skills, the group says. However, that process will be "agonizingly slow." In the meantime, corporate trainers will have to fill in the gaps by developing those skills in employees.

But if people gain those skills only at work, how can people within disadvantaged populations gain higher-level jobs? Will they be stuck forever in a chicken-or-the-egg cycle?

A bipartisan initiative in the United States, the American Diploma Project, is attempting to address that issue. The project wants to ensure that a high school diploma means U.S. students can succeed in college or "high-performance, high-level jobs." Led by Achieve, a partnership of state governors and corporate leaders, the project offers benchmarks for competencies that map to workplace tasks and college assignments.

Achieve is working with states, the U.S. government, educators, and business leaders to "create a high school diploma that counts" and give students the knowledge and skills they need to survive in an information-based global economy. Will this initiative provide employers with the type of workers they're so hungry for? Only time will tell.

Experience. Many young people around the world aren't getting the work experience they need for present and future success. More than 300 million people age 18 to 30 are unemployed or underemployed globally, according to a 2003 report by the international Teens and Technology Consortium (written about a 2002 roundtable discussion).

Young workers in the United States bore the brunt of employment losses in the past few years, according to a report by the Center for Labor Market Studies (CLMS) at Northeastern University. From 2000 to 2003, the rate of employment for 16- to 24-year-olds declined more than for any other age group (5.2 percent). The effects of that can reach into the future: Reducing cumulative work experience can impair youths' earning potential later in life.

Among specific populations, underemployment is even more prevalent and lack of experience is especially critical. In 2003, only 35 percent of U.S. high school dropouts and 55 percent of high school graduates were employed full-time, versus 77 percent of four-year college graduates. Only one in four African American high school graduates were working full-time.

"Recovery for Whom?" Intelligence (March T+D)

One important factor contributing to un- or underemployment globally is lack of access to technology. The Teens and Technology Project Inventory analyzed best practices in connecting disadvantaged youth to technology; one of those practices was linking learning to further education or future employment.

The Herman Group predicts companies will "adopt" students, forecasting long-term educational employment at corporations for teens and describing current career programs by Motorola and Sony at elementary schools. …