Jeff Livingston: The Most Neglected Skills

Jeff Livingston: In my life as a professional engaged in the business of education I frequently find myself involved in conversations about college and career readiness.  Almost always that phrase - college and career readiness - precedes a conversation between two people, both of whom went to college – a particular kind of college even.  And the conversation is usually about college.  I think our society hasn’t been serious enough about the career part of that equation. There is a presumption among some people that the body of knowledge necessary to be ready for college level work and the body of knowledge necessary to enter a career with prospects for promotion are exactly the same.

I believe that there are students, in fact, the vast majority of students, whose education after high school will look nothing like mine.  I left my public high school in South Carolina and moved to Massachusetts and went to an Ivy League university and spent four years there, graduated and went on with my career.  That is now an unusual experience to a ridiculous extent except among education policy people.  There are going to be many more students who leave high school and go directly to work and start on a path of learning from work that’s going to lead in very different directions than my career has led.

And I don’t believe that we have done enough at the policy level to explore what those different pathways might look like.  And if you ask employers, industry leaders – they tend to agree with me on that.  We are not thinking enough about middle skill jobs.  We are not thinking enough about technical jobs below the level of engineer.  And I think our society and its policymakers really need to pay some careful attention to that.  Probably if and when we start to pay attention, we will come upon the tragic absence of apprenticeships in our American society.  In Europe as many as a quarter to a half of any group of teenagers at any point is pursuing an apprenticeship which means that they are getting both academic training and work training while being paid by an employer.

They’re learning on the job to pursue a particular career.  And that can be an apprenticeship in software development.  It could be an apprenticeship in hotel management.  It could be an apprenticeship in any number of things.  In the United States we have shamefully convinced most high school students that they either need to go to Harvard or they need to go to McDonald’s.  And the truth is significantly more complicated than that.  In the middle are where job growth is, where there are jobs that are not being filled today and too few people in our public policy community are really focused on what students who are going to pursue a career as their pathway out of poverty, for example, really need to be getting from their education – really need to be getting from the public policy people who are dedicated to creating opportunities for them.

And allowing them to pursue pathways that look nothing like what we think is traditional. Because the reality is the notion that you go off to college, live in a dorm, go to some football games, graduate in four years and go on with your life is a persistent myth that has very little to do with the lives of most people pursuing a degree after high school right now.  And the sooner we get to the point that we take the career side of the college and career readiness equation much more seriously, the better off our society will be, the fewer young people we will have who are in a position of not being in school or at work and the better off we will be in terms of filling existing jobs requiring high levels of skills for which there are no employees today.

Directed/Produced by Jonathan Fowler and Dillon Filton

 

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