by Lynn Aprill
I heard the following anecdote from one of our board members last night: “A business friend of mine was hiring recently. After interviewing 100 candidates, he found only three that he felt had the skills necessary for the job.” He wasn’t just talking about job-specific skills; he was lamenting the absence of “soft skills”– non-technical skills such as communications, attendance, work ethic, basic math and computer/technology skills. While attending chamber of commerce and business development meetings across Northeast Wisconsin this spring, I found the theme of soft skills repeated again and again. The general consensus? “I can train a person for the job, but they need to know how to show up on time and turn off their cell phones.”
Manufacturers are increasingly calling for these skilled workers. According to the 2016 Manufacturing Vitality Index created by the Northeast Wisconsin Manufacturing Alliance, only 29% of the manufacturing sector expressed difficulty finding talent in 2011. Just five years later, 78% of respondents are experiencing difficulty finding talent. It’s clear that the talent development shortage looms large in Wisconsin, and according to the latest Talent Shortage Survey results from Manpower Group, it’s a problem that’s being experienced world-wide, with 2015 talent shortages at a seven-year high.
At the same time that employers are desperately in need of future skilled workers, statistics show us that many of our students are lacking adequate preparation for successful post-secondary education. National college completion rates are continuing to decline, with just over half of our college-bound students receiving bachelor’s degrees after six years.
According to the National Governors Association, development of a skilled workforce is one of the primary priorities of the nation’s governors. To achieve this goal, many states are advocating for “improving the alignment between the skills needed by private sector employers and the education and job training systems that provide the pipeline of workers” (State of Wisconsin). State legislatures have led the charge by passing legislation such as Wisconsin’s PI26, requiring all districts to embed academic and career planning within the 6-12 curriculum by 2017.
What does all of this mean for the classroom teacher? I think a Marinette business leader recently hit the nail on the head—“Teachers need to understand that they are workforce developers.” We want to help our students to become critical thinkers and problem solvers and intelligent consumers of media, but sometimes I think we’ve lost sight of the goal—to prepare our students to become gainfully employed, whether that is right out of high school or after successful post-secondary education. Students today are going to spend more time on the job– and change occupations and whole career fields more often—than any previous generation. But how much does the average English teacher (or math teacher or science teacher) know about workforce needs today or job opportunities which enable our students to become productive members of our local communities?
We have the opportunity to model for our students our belief in “lifelong learning” by researching academic and career planning, investigating the local job market, and communicating with post-secondary educators about college preparation gaps which exist today. It is truly going to take all of the resources of our respective “villages” to equip our children for the world they’ll enter after graduation. Creative and authentic collaborations between educators, community members and employers will help our students to make vital classroom/career connections and prepare them for whatever their futures may hold.
We want to hear from you, our readers: what different ways have you been successful in helping our students become “lifelong learners” and, ultimately, career-minded citizens? What are some of the the classroom projects or collaborations with community members, employers, parents, and others that have helped you prepare students for life after graduation?
by Lynn Aprill CEL member-at-Large 2013-2016
2015 Talent Shortage Survey. Manpower Group, 2015.
2016 Manufacturing Vitality Index Survey. Northeast Wisconsin Manufacturing Alliance, 2015.
State of Wisconsin. Department of Workforce Development. Wisconsin Workforce Investment
Act; Wagner-Peyser Act; Agricultural Outreach Play. Madison, 2013. Print.