More than 50% of young Americans arrive in their mid-twenties without the skills and experience needed for success in today’s economy. At the same time, public and private employers have increasingly found themselves leaving jobs unfilled for lack of suitable candidates. In Massachusetts, our ongoing efforts over the last twenty years to raise academic standards in order to expand college access have done much to get us closer to our goal of educating all of our students to high levels. But as these reforms have unfolded, we have seen another concerning trend evolve - one that until very recently has been largely outside the purview of the public eye - the average high school graduate today is underprepared and lacks the necessary experience for succeeding in the workplace. About 42% of employers rate high school graduates as “deficient” in their preparation for entry‐level jobs.1 This lack of preparedness not only heightens the difficulty young adults have in finding work but also directly affects the likelihood of young adults completing and succeeding in post‐secondary education. Contrary to popular belief, the average person does not obtain a postsecondary degree in four years. Most are working, or trying to work, while pursuing post‐secondary education and those who need to delay or postpone college to save money are substantially less likely to graduate with a degree or credential.
So what are we doing to address these challenges?
Since February 2012, the EOE has been working with Jobs for the Future and Harvard Graduate School of Education to participate in a multi-state career pathways network known as the Pathways to Prosperity Network. The concept for creating a multi-state network was premised on Harvard’s 2011 report entitled Pathways to Prosperity: Meeting the Challenge of Preparing Young Americans for the 21st Century. The report calls for an intensive effort on the part of employers, educators, and government leaders to build pathways that link work and learning and are aligned with current and projected regional workforce demand.
The goal of the initiative is to demonstrate in key regional labor markets that many more young people can complete high school, attain a postsecondary credential with value in the labor market, and get launched on a career while leaving open the prospect of further education. To accomplish this goal, regional employers are joining forces with educators, workforce development organizations and policy makers in government to build a system of pathways for high school age students to and through a postsecondary technical education program and on into the labor market. All of the participating states, Massachusetts, Maine, Missouri, Tennessee, North Carolina and Illinois, are committing to build pathways systems with deep employer engagement starting from existing strengths on the ground, and adding components as needed.
As part of our state’s work, we are in the early stages of developing three replicable career pathway models in healthcare, information technology and advanced manufacturing in the Boston, Metro West and Springfield regions respectively. Since April 2012, we have been working with Bunker Hill, Mass Bay and Springfield Technical Community Colleges, the local workforce investment boards in each region and employers including members of the MA Competitive Partnership, PTC, Bose, Harvard Vanguard, MA Manufacturing Extension Partnership and the Western MA Tool and Machine Association to connect with local high schools in the three regions and begin to assess what is needed to create these 6-year career pathways beginning in 9th grade that result in training students with the technical skills they will need to be employed in high-demand occupations.
We are just getting started. How can you help?
An October summit of the six participating Pathways Network states will identify best practices among the Network, help each state solidify its plans for creating and strengthening 9-14 career pathways in the targeted regions, and develop collaborative relationships with colleagues in other states who are addressing similar challenges. From that convening, we will begin the design and implementation process for creating these 6-year career pathways in each of the three target regions and will continue to hold meetings of the local partners in each of the three project areas, including the community colleges, high schools, and workforce investment board directors that serve the target regions. We are particularly interested in expanding our base of employer partners to engage in the regional efforts for healthcare, information technology and advanced manufacturing. If you are an employer interested in engaging with your local high schools and community college in the Boston, Metro West or Hampden regions, then we are interested in talking to you!
Please contact me for more information on how to get involved in our Pathways project at Marybeth.firstname.lastname@example.org.
1 Jill Casner‐Lotto, Are they Ready to Work?, (The Conference Board, Corporate Voices for Working Families, the Partnership for 21st Century Skills, and the Society for Human Resource Management, 2010) p. 11.