June 1, 2012

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Educating for the Future

LEARNING THAT WORKS Enhancing Utah’s Educational System Ed...Read More

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Connect the Education Dots

Preparing Tomorrow’s Workforce through Collaboration

Cynthia Bioteau, Ph.D., President, Salt Lake Community College

June 1, 2012

It should come as no surprise to any employer, business leader or industry sector that the skills needed for the talent workforce of the 21st Century are critically different from those we relied upon in the agricultural or industrial age. The current knowledge/digital age brings inherent expectations of competing in a global economy with a global workforce. Technology has brought about a convergence of skills, abilities and access, along with a blurring of borders.

This convergence emerges not only in the baseline skillsets required for any employee in most jobs for the 21st century—writing (both technical and communicative), math, technology adeptness, team problem-solving, critical thinking, data analytics and leadership for the person and/or team—but also in how education and training are developed and delivered. No longer can separate disciplines be taught in isolation. The ivory towers of the past now become integrated marketplaces.

Nanotechnology embraces the sciences, information technology (IT), advanced manufacturing, English and math within its competencies. Geographic Information Science (GIS) is created through the intersections of science, IT, geography, math, surveying and geospatial mapping for industry sectors including healthcare, criminal justice, aerospace, etc. Advanced manufacturing in areas such as composites include non-destructive testing, sciences, technical writing and math. These examples of career fields for the 21st century go on and on, with the common threads of integration of disciplines, along with a great reliance upon the science, technology and math.

Yes, the advancement of STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) skills we so often read and hear about are essential to educating tomorrow’s workforce. However, these skills are built upon foundationally and not merely in college. The fundamental learning begins in preschool and progresses through primary, middle and high school. Without strong basic skills, sequential and sophisticated levels cannot be achieved. The edge we long for in the global race for innovation, entrepreneurship and job growth begins quite earnestly in these early years of education, where convergence of another type must occur.

This convergence is one of education systems working together along with business and industry to ensure a relevancy for learning and a continuum of consistency. The public and policymakers must also understand and support the importance of education from preschool on, and this education must be coordinated and aligned with the essential building blocks for reading, numerical literacy and sciences. Convergence here involves not only policy, funding mechanisms and business engagement, but a concerted effort from the systems of public and higher education to build the chronological blocks of learning that embeds a relevancy for the learning.   

Building blocks or stackable competencies in the areas of science, math and technology bring attention to identified and demonstrable learning outcomes, as well as to the acknowledgement that the analogous time clock of industrial age seat time is no longer applicable to measuring the progress and success of students. Rather, education must be constructed in meaningful and relevant modules of competencies that build and stack towards specific career paths supporting the new global economy.

Credentials need to be clearly aligned with performance objectives that have been closely collaborated on between educational institutions and employers and targeted to address rigorous international standards. These credentials must also encompass workforce readiness skills and certifications along with academic achievements. It is not enough for an employee to possess a degree or industry-based certification if he or she does not show up at work, cannot work in a team or utilize technology for efficacy in the job.

Currently, the National Career Readiness Certification assesses levels of workforce skills and may be combined with standardized academic tests such as the SAT to comprehensively measure contextual, technical and workforce readiness in high school and college students. Bridging the systems of educational institutions and the workplace in these ways will be critical as we join forces to compete locally and globally for a strong economy.  When we connect the dots of our educational systems to each other and to our employers, we blur the borders of the past and prepare for a vital future.

Education Part 3

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