(Preface: if it seems like this jumps all over the place…well, it does. It’s an overview collection of excerpts from several sources, all in support of a community socio-economic improvement initiative titled “Real-world Prep School”. If you’re one of the few I’m having direct conversations with, you have a leg up. If not, see the first two links in “References / Sources” at the end)
We are vibrant and growing, economically prosperous and emotionally healthy. Our community development model is a magnet for families with children, new employers, and working adults.
- Whole-life engagement! We have a community-supported education and development system that produces a highly skilled, fully engaged talent pool that is supported and utilized by community-conscious local employers;
- Community retention and recruiting! “Want In!” New families and businesses stand in line to come here. Young people have a reason to stay, family roots and stability are rejuvenated;
- Employability of learners and the current workforce is assured by ongoing and meaningful, targeted education and skills updating: timely and relevant preparation to secure a desirable position with an excellent company that is a pillar of the community;
- Equal opportunity to develop and grow! Each person has the means to reach their full potential along their desired path, maximizing the opportunity for a long, fulfilling life on “my” terms;
- Strong community-wide relationships! Respect, appreciation and inclusion regardless of gender, ethnicity, nationality, or social / economic stature is the norm and a shared expectation;
- Well-informed and highly involved community members! The greater good is elevated above individual gain. Community members are fully engaged in civic matters and there is ample opportunity for all to contribute toward community goals regardless of status or position. The community belief: the good of the many outweighs the good of the few…Ubuntu!
What Is “Real-world Prep School”? (RWPS)
RWPS is an application-intensive enhancement to existing grades 5-12 curriculum, balanced between interpersonal skills / social-emotional development, and workplace preparation / hard skills. Modular topics range from quick-hitter stand-alones to ongoing projects and full-term coursework.
Curriculum is built around topics employers identify as essential foundational skills. Workplace subject matter experts and instructors are utilized when possible. RWPS content is typically unavailable in traditional education; this isn’t meant to compete with education but to complement by collaborating on needs analysis, co-design and delivery to ensures actual workplace needs are met. With all stakeholders pitching in, time and budget burdens are lifted from the over-extended education system.
Workplace Prep and a Whole Lot More. RWPS is the education component of a broad social well-being and economic development initiative in disguise. CAUTION! Some people could be turned off if this is viewed as overwhelmingly big or too weird, or if they think they will be forced to change their nature. So there is little overt attention beyond the primary target of preparing young people for life. But All People is the actual target, including the working adult population and the community’s families. We can only enable systemic change by engaging families, employers, education, legislators, civic leaders…the whole community. We’re all in this together.
A Radical (Unschooling) Lightning Bolt (from 8-2 New Unschooling Two Parter.doc)
It’s widely acknowledged we must do something different in education. We’re zoned in on post-secondary ed availability and attainment and STEM prep, but the real issues are much deeper. Have we elevated the right targets? We can and must do better for the kids, ourselves, the economy, society.
A strange animal called “radical unschooling” (homeschooling on steroids) has incredible potential. But it’s too weird for mainstream, and education establishment would be hesitant to take a chance on adopting even some of the core philosophies that make RU work—not enough research, data or rigor for educators. I’ve been overly critical of what I perceive is the establishment’s conservatism and resulting inability to adapt. Epiphany: is there such a thing as working within the system, is there value in trying to partially win over traditional educators? While it is perceived as such, RU is not an all-or-none, revolutionary replacement of the current, broken system. Coexistence is possible.
What’s Really At Stake?
Personal attainment and life satisfaction, community and social well-being, Improvement, health and prosperity…that’s “all” that is at stake. As social-emotional development of all community members is critical to the greater good, the RWPS model develops adults, not just kids in school. Community-wide vision, goals and action is the key, with a collaborative effort among stakeholders the catalyst: families, education, employers, legislators / local gov’t / civic and community leaders all aligned and involved.
The real drivers are a sub-surface iceberg of human maladies: bullying, harassment, youth (all ages!) suicide; chronic incivility; anemic values and ethics, social and political polarization, hatred, bigotry. Apathy (+) low awareness of civics and issues (+) social disengagement (=) no community involvement.
A key enabler of economic and social stability is the process of norming and socialization, of simply “growing up”. The institutions of family, education and church have lost their influence on young people, there’s too much busyness to accumulate more “stuff”, to give kids a “better life” than what the parent had. We need to redefine “better”. We need, badly, to get to work stitching our social fabric back together. It was once a beautiful quilt, now it’s just a bunch of grease rags on the shop floor.
Tech giant Google studied the relative importance of hard skills and “soft” attributes. It found that “success” has little to do with algorithms, data crunching or search engine optimization. There is a whole arena of “soft” attributes that Google found are even more critical than technical skills. And research shows that priority should be on “people needs” first: soft before hard skills. We’ve got it backwards! We can do better by at least balancing our attention on both people and process, but we need to acknowledge that people needs are the prerequisite to achieving optimal “thing” results.
Unspeakables (sure hope this doesn’t ruffle feathers, “let me explain….”)
- The traditional education system is doing too much harm to too many young people. A top cause of the alarming increase in middle school suicide rate is academic pressure to perform and to conform. Add peer bullying to the mix. America sees alarming spike in middle school suicide rate
- Young people who survive the education system are ill-equipped for college or the workplace, and unprepared emotionally for life. The traditional system isn’t delivering the goods, and the system isn’t designed to respond to pressures to adapt. (Or it won’t change….)
- Kids cannot perform outside of standard, canned responses, memorized answers. Still, the US is not doing so well by global performance in standard testing.
- Level of creativity and critical thinking among US youth is plummeting. Peter Gray examines this in As Children’s Freedom Has Declined, So Has Their Creativity, first posted Sep 17, 2012. It’s even more relevant today as the situation has worsened considerably. Creativity and critical thinking are the two most essential new workplace skills, and we’ve lost our edge. US competitiveness and productivity, and economic and social stability are at stake.
- Our talent pool is shallow and muddy, our ability to compete globally is in serious danger. The private sector guy in me says that’s unacceptable. If it can be resolved why isn’t it a priority?
- I love my grandkids. If I live long enough to meet them, I’m sure I’d feel the same about their kids. I want to do all I can to ensure they all have a decent world to call home, a safe and fulfilling life. We cannot get there going down the path we’re on. It’s that simple.
If anything makes Americans stand tall internationally it is creativity. “American ingenuity” is admired everywhere. We are not the richest country (at least not as measured by smallest percentage in poverty), nor the healthiest (far from it), nor the country whose kids score highest on standardized tests (despite our politicians’ misguided intentions to get us there), but we are the most inventive country. We are the great innovators, specialists in figuring out new ways of doing things and new things to do.
In the business world as well as in academia and the arts and elsewhere, creativity is our number one asset. In a recent IBM poll, 1,500 CEOs acknowledged this when they identified creativity as the best predictor of future success. It is sobering, therefore, to read Kyung Hee Kim’s recent research report documenting a continuous decline in creativity among American schoolchildren over the last two or three decades. (Gray blog–above)
(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 illness, self-harm, and suicide are increasing across all ages. Hypothesis: we have no purpose or meaning in our own lives, and we’ve forgotten the importance of treating each other like human beings. We’re far too often killing ourselves and each other. We’ve devalued life. Harsh? Reality usually is.
Future Ready Iowa Alliance: Final Recommendations (Craig’s comments too)
The most relevant section is #5: Develop a grassroots strategy to engage the business community, sector boards, regional workforce boards, STEM regions and other regional collaborations to align with Alliance recommendations.
A few recommendations have been deleted. (Parenths and italics = RWPS relevant element).
- Determine if gaps exist where guidance could be provided to a community or region to assist in the development of a collaborative approach toward workforce initiatives. (RWPS will be a benchmark for FRI participants on how to avoid gaps in the collaborative approach)
- (“Sector” focus is too broad)
- Ensure playbook includes models and best practices for rural businesses. (define “rural businesses”)
- Ensure playbook includes models of best practices to strengthen relationships between businesses and education and build new and expand existing career pathways. (Who “ensures”? Is this work-in-process? How long? RWPS is a benchmark for relationship-building among stakeholders. “Expand career pathways” is integral to RWPS design, and grads have much more flexibility in career capabilities, therefore choices)
- Design successful strategies, including:
- Identify challenges the business community has in attracting and retaining a qualified workforce, including “soft‐skill” challenges, and engage in collaborative solutions. (Needs analysis and flagging challenges are ongoing, real-time and integrated. RWPS is balanced between soft and hard skills, with emphasis on developing soft skills)
iii. Determine how to best leverage existing solutions such as career pathway development and training, work‐based learning experiences, internships, apprenticeships, and K‐12 career exposure opportunities. (All this is built into the RWPS model)
- Utilize local, state, and federal programs that already exist to support challenges identified. (of course! FRI is a valuable benchmarking and occasional as-needed consultation resource)
- Support successful work or operations of existing business‐community collaborative. Technical assistance for existing or future sector partnerships and other public private partnerships will be provided by the Department of Education, local workforce investment boards, and other relevant partners depending on the strategy selected. (Support from the FRI system and from RWPS back to FRI, truly symbiotic! The Alliance will be interested in the RWPS model once it starts proving itself!)
Potential types of technical assistance may include: providing private sector with necessary partner to “lead” board; conducting research on solutions/issues at request of sector group; marketing and sharing relevant labor‐market data including local occupational outlook data; recruiting the private sector to participate where gaps exist; inviting supporting entities to participate based on issues identified by employers; sharing statewide best practices and success stories; serving as catalyst or engage a catalyst where public‐private workforce partnerships do not exist. (an eventual endorsement of RWPS from the Alliance would lend credibility to the process. And FRI will benefit from collaborating with RWPS as well)
Where Future Ready Iowa (FRI) Misses the Mark
- 70% post-secondary education or training goal by 2025;
- Sector or region-based needs are not the most effective education and training design driver. There is a really big, convoluted mashup of agencies and players, yet there is minimal action and results! Culprits besides newness: complexity, overkill, programitis.
- STEM and high-paying, targeted industry position targets ignore entry-level jobs, which are the more realistic starting point for a young worker. And it’s dangerous to assume even an advanced degree is a reliable indicator of capability to succeed in a specific position;
- Employers are asked to contribute to a broad pool for scholarship / grant funding;
- FRI calls for collaboration, but it’s still too silo-oriented with minimal direct collaboration among stakeholders.
Re-calibrating Future Ready Iowa with the RWPS Model (numbers reference above list)
(one) By 2025 68% of Iowa jobs will require post-secondary of some kind. What is the 32%? Goal: 70% of all Iowans with some form of post-secondary academic / trades education / certification by 2025. Education or training in what, to meet which specific needs? College-for-all is too general, isn’t necessary. Too many people spend half a lifetime in debt but still miss the employability mark;
(two) RWPS is locally developed and controlled rather than a not-invented–here program. It’s human nature to more fully support something and commit to its success when you have had front-end input. Future Ready Iowa is a great resource to benchmark, not to blindly embrace and somehow make it fit.
(two) The need is for more local, tighter focus. The RWPS community-based model is scaled down from FRI. It is designed to meet specific needs and directly connects and involves the key players.
(two) The arm swings the hammer, or thumbs get mashed! Too often, the tool controls the craftsman, if the process is sacred the customers’ and users’ needs become secondary. While it is a good resource, the FRI process / program is complex, and hard to fully embrace without significant assistance;
(three) FRI is skewed toward STEM careers in targeted industries. Community colleges are favorable toward trades careers. Iowa’s current core businesses, and greatest immediate and near-term needs, besides agricultural are finance, health, banking…service and information processing. The world economy is shifting. How relevant will mfg be in Iowa by 2025? Service and information may be bigger. STEM is essential to our future, but it isn’t the be-all and we can’t bet the farm on STEM alone.
(three) FRI’s heavy emphasis on post-secondary academic attainment locks learners into a specific area of study, and limits their career options. RWPS develops high-potential people who are socially, emotionally, intellectually prepared for success in a variety of fields.
(three) No academic curriculum can adequately provide job skills for a specific position. Specific job skills are better provided post-placement, by specific employers to meet their specific needs.
(four) Business leaders like ROI. FRI asks them to support scholarships / grants for unknown recipients to pursue unknown studies… pretty much throwing money into a dark hole. Contributors may or may not see a direct benefit. RWPS builds relationships with young people in the local community’s talent pool starting in middle school, including early introductions to high potentials. Early exposure increases the likelihood of a better employer-to-candidate cultural fit. Last, high potential learners know they are being “scouted” for a future job, a powerful motivator for learners!
(four) In addition to direct and early interface with their most likely future employees, employers need substantial input to the education / training curriculum and process, and more direct control over their own talent pool preparation. Ongoing input and re-design ensures that needs remain relevant;
(five) The workplace must align with coursework, so front-end employer input kick-starts RWPS: defining near-term position skills requirements and realistic expectations for degree attainment.
(five) Employers aren’t done once they provide a list of needs and contribute to funding. Involvement is in-depth and ongoing, from needs assessment to co-design, through co-delivery and determining placements, even internal employer-provided skills training: the handoff must be seamless from academics to workplace, from education to more specific internal training and development;
(five) Education is not well-versed in workplace concepts, tools and techniques. This is not a slam! It’s unrealistic to expect educators to become content and process experts. Easy remedy: Let the Rabbits Run. Leverage strengths, with education and employers collaborating on material design and delivery.
SF475 (Omnibus education bill–Iowa): Online Learning
House passed, Senate is assessing. I’m concerned about the online component (see 1 in the bill) There is no successful model to benchmark, even though there’s probably a multitude of vendors hawking their wares…let the buyer beware! Just a hunch from prior experience. See “Diploma Inflation”.
What’s driving this legislation, why is this being considered? Are we actually headed down this path for HS coursework? From the bill’s language, it appears the legislation is relevant only when online is “the primary” material (?). Pretty gray, need to operationally define: how much is “primary”?
My view: online learning will require substantial up-front investment for system and coursework licensing. The greatest detractor: working online is efficient and convenient, but it eliminates interaction that is so critical to social-emotional development and deeper learning. We don’t need another handy check-box activity to hasten graduation, we need youth development and lasting results.
Efficiency without effectiveness is like straightening deck chairs on the Titanic. (S. Covey)
Defining Preparation and Qualifications
Employers scream and point fingers: “We need better prepared candidates!” But what exactly is “prepared”? System improvement must begin at the front end: what are employers’ real needs, we need better definition and more realistic application of the “degree required” hiring criteria and what learning is provided to whom and when. Goal: provide the right learning to the right people in the right way at the right place and time. Critical first step is to determine needs, at three levels:
- Pre-hire attributes and core capabilities: what kind of people are we looking for generally? May be legally touchy as hiring criteria / interviewing questions but should include “soft fit”… culture, vision, values;
- Foundational, broad workplace skills that can be provided and practiced pre-hire, in school;
- Position-specific skills Training that is much more tightly focused on real needs specific to the position must be provided post-hire and placement. It’s common sense: this type of training will not stick without immediate on-the-job application and reinforcement.
Closing Thoughts This project is my passion. It has evolved for over a decade, it still needs thoughtful, in-depth analysis, needs to make sense to others. It requires the right champions too. I’ve spent considerable time in both education and the workplace. I realize that marrying tradition-bound academians with pragmatic, results-driven managers is an unnatural partnership. I understand both worlds’ issues and needs, and speak both languages. I want to help ensure our sustainable productivity and ethical quality of life, as a shared resource for education, employers, community—a catalyst / liaison who brings the players together for the greater good.
These blogs and articles provide RWPS project background.
- (one) Real-world Prep…Vision or Delusion? https://onepondripples.wordpress.com/2018/04/07/real-world-prepvision-or-delusion/
- (two) Potholes to Repair—Intersection of Education and Workplace
- Kids Bully, Big Kids Harass https://onepondripples.wordpress.com/2018/03/13/kids-bully-big-kids-harass/)
- Google’s Ginormous (Non-technical!) Breakthrough There is a whole arena of “soft” attributes that Google found are even more critical than technical skills. And research shows that priority should be on “people needs” first: soft before hard skills. https://onepondripples.wordpress.com/2018/03/24/googles-ginormous-non-technical-breakthrough/
- Bookends: Early Childhood Development and Diploma Inflation https://onepondripples.wordpress.com/2018/07/11/bookends-early-childhood-development-and-diploma-inflation/
- Education Collaboration Delivers ROI, Economic Growth, Well-being: employer WIIFM. Includes a link to “Part Two” that identifies a few specific starter actions. From Feb 2016: I’ve been serious about this for some time! https://onepondripples.wordpress.com/2016/02/16/education-collaboration-delivers-roi-economic-growth-well-being/
- SF 475 Omnibus Ed. Bill https://www.legis.iowa.gov/legislation/BillBook?ba=SF475&ga=87
- FRI Alliance’s Final Recommendations https://www.futurereadyiowa.gov/recommendations.