I Had a Dream Last Night…
….a wickedly delicious dream. My small town had somehow pulled together an all-stakeholder collaboration complete with shared community vision, ethics and goals. We had even taken significant coordinated actions with no infighting, no control freaks, no country clubbing. That alone was strange.
What is this thing called “Real World Prep School”? It looked like education, employers, parents, community, civic leaders—all the players—were doing their part, shifting delivery and budget burden away from the overextended education system. Collaborative needs analysis, co-design and delivery by employers, community leaders and educators ensured actual workplace needs were met. It was working…our town was booming! I saw a banner at City Hall, kind of a vision statement-looking slogan:
We are a vibrant, economically and emotionally prosperous community. Our model of development is a magnet for economic growth, attracting families with children, new employers, and working adults to our community.
A smaller wall chart beside the banner had the header “Shared Community Objectives”. As I read the bullets I said out loud “is this Utopia, or what?” At the very least it seemed to be a great environment for families, employers, the whole community to grow. The objectives:
- Whole-life engagement! We have a world-class talent pool: highly skilled, fully engaged, fully utilized by local employers;
- Community retention and recruiting! New families and new businesses standing in line to join us. Our generational roots and stability are rejuvenated as young people have a reason to stay;
- Employability among learners and the current workforce is assured. Free and meaningful “higher education” and skills updating for adults is provided with targeted, relevant topics leading to a great position with an excellent company that is a pillar of the community.
- Equal opportunity to develop and grow! Each person can reach their full potential along their desired path, maximizing the probability of a long, fulfilling life on their own terms;
- Strong relationships community-wide! Mutual respect, appreciation and inclusion are the norm, regardless of gender, ethnicity, nationality, or social / economic stature;
- Well-informed and highly involved community members! The community’s greater good is held above individual gain, and citizens are fully engaged in civic matters. There is ample opportunity for all to contribute toward community goals, regardless of status or position as long as the willingness is there. The good of the many outweighs the good of the few. Ubuntu!
Can you imagine? Pinch myself…it’s only a dream. I didn’t want to wake up but I did. I grabbed a pad and pen and scribbled down details before they faded. As I wrote, the fuzzy dream became more clear. And I got to thinking…“why not?”
Hold my beer, right?
Why would I dream all this? Maybe it has something to do with the nasty issues that had been consuming my waking thoughts for too long. I’ve been deeply involved in repairing potholes in the intersection of Workplace and Education. There are many issues in the interface between the two, or more appropriately the lack thereof. While academic and workforce issues are well known, I’ve documented a few here. But first…Potholes to Repair: Intersection of Education and Workplace (go here and come back…will make more sense)
What’s Really At Stake? (from Kids Bully, Big Kids Harass)
Too many young people suffer irreversible long-term harm, even commit suicide because of pressures they can’t handle. Key triggers: education demands, bullying, growing up in a vacuum. Too many adults are in pain too, suffering from isolation, lack of purpose, workplace pressures, big kid bullying a.k.a harassment.
Stress, anxiety, formally diagnosed mental / emotional illnesses, self-harm, suicide are increasing across all ages. Hypothesis: we’ve turned our backs on the importance of treating each other like human beings, we have no purpose or meaning in our lives and we’re far too often killing ourselves and each other. We’ve devalued our humanity. Harsh? Reality usually is.
“Big” targets are a sub-surface iceberg: bullying, harassment, youth (all ages!) suicide; lack of civility anemic values and ethics, social and political polarization, inability to discuss our differences. Apathy, disengagement, low awareness of civics and issues = no community involvement. We can do better.
Real-world Prep School > Community Growth. RWPS is the education component of a broad social well-being and economic development initiative in disguise. “Whole-person / All-person Development” is the macro focus, and it extends into the working adult population and the community’s families.
The Dream Grows Legs: Details
RWPS is an application-intensive enhancement to existing 5-12 curriculum, balanced between interpersonal / social-emotional development and workplace preparation / hard skills. Modular design ranges from quick-hitter stand-alone lessons to ongoing projects and full-term coursework, all based on employer needs. Learners are coached on how to increase their employability, building portfolios with specific examples of their work. Lessons provide resume-worthy bullets in lieu of job experience.
Initial focus is on high school students who may be unable to go to college, college students nearing graduation or recently graduated; employed, unemployed or underemployed adults needing an upgrade of workplace knowledge, skills and abilities.
The RWPS curriculum consists of topics employers identify as essential foundational skills, and utilizes private sector subject matter experts as adjunct instructors when possible. RWPS is not in competition with education, providing course content unavailable in a traditional education curriculum, and tapping the private sector for much-needed subject matter expertise and adjunct resources.
STEM + SED: Target = Develop People and Save the World
Teaming and STEM-based project assignments are all that right now. But kids are lost when they are assigned to a project team. They have not had the soft skills development needed to ensure success.
A huge concern is bullying and the growing numbers of youth suicides. And bullying morphs into big kid bad behavior…harassment. Society is a mess, there is general disregard for how to treat each other, human life is de-valued and there’s a huge void in ethical leadership to get us out of our funk. Current social-emotional development efforts in education aren’t effective. They’re not deep enough, are too infrequent, have no ongoing adult coaching. And we need to reach out to the adult population too.
Workforce Prep–More Than Job Skills
RWPS coursework is balanced between (1) social-emotional development and (2) mainstream workplace concepts, methods and skills. People before process:
- People: purpose / vision, values, social consciousness. Help people develop emotionally and socially; guide learners in personal branding, and in establishing a meaningful connection to themselves, others and their environment. Only then can skills development truly take hold;
- Process: toolbox mastery / workplace skills preparation. Provide hands-on experience with mainstream workplace tools and techniques, including direct interface with employers.
It is essential to balance how we prepare learners for the real world. Technology is here to stay, but so is the need for emotionally grounded people. The two are not a one-or-the-other proposition.
Social-emotional development (SED) is typically provided for elementary age kids, if at all, then it stops. Nothing for teens, even though adolescence is a particularly tough road to navigate, with future blues, social issues, peer pressure, raging hormones. Teen years are high-risk and common sense says there should be more and deeper attention given to their social and emotional development.
Employers are a key stakeholder group, and their commitment and direct participation is essential. But there is plenty to gain for them, a hat trick (three!) of benefits in RWPS involvement: (1) additional internal development resources; (2) community CSR that matters; (3) goodwill and connection into their future talent pool, extending into earn while you learn, a highly effective internship program.
Employers develop a workforce committed to strengthening the company and community. A cohesive, sustainable culture grows, and future employees come on board already aligned with the culture and vision. My community is a good example: three employers are green industry and have high turnover, making productivity levels unsustainable. The Green Movement vision: fight environmental destruction especially atmospheric / climate damage, and health problems from fossil fuel production, transport and usage. Go for the jugular by adding “make the world worth living in for your kids.” This shared Green vision could boost retention and recruitment, but it is under-leveraged. Community-wide awareness is the key.
The long-range community and economic development potential: once RWPS is established, it is a highly marketable economic development magnet for additional employers, younger families with school-age children, and working adults (see “Develop People” model). This is CSR on steroids with substantial employer WIIFM. It’s not just the right thing to do. It’s good business.
Workforce skills have been a long-time career focus. I saw the immediate need fifteen years ago and was closely involved in skills development. We also addressed demographic projections due to baby boomer retirements. RWPS is the original focus of my “career crowning achievement”. And I have a real passion for social-emotional development (SED) from extensive involvement in the classroom, but especially because I’m a crazy grandparent who wants to leave behind a better world for my grand kids. RWPS and SED are a powerful combination that can re-engineer this broken society and world.
These wild notions have evolved for over a decade, this project is my passion. It still needs thoughtful, in-depth analysis to make sure it makes sense. I’ve spent considerable time in both education and the workplace. It’s not a natural partnership to marry theoretical, research-based eggheads with pragmatic, results-driven managers. I understand the issues and needs, and speak both languages.
Here’s my greatest frustration. There is so much going on out there, huge initiatives and some of them are really, really good. But they may be just a bit off target here and there, and there’s no real concentrated focus driving things. Even more frustrating: with all the shotgun effort and in spite of lots of people with the best intentions, nothing sustainable is happening!
I want to help bring things into focus and make it happen—a catalyst / liaison who brings the players together, a resource that is shared among education, employers, community. Most of all, I want to be a proud grand parent who is reasonably sure we’ve done all we can to make things right for the next generations.