Replaces two earlier “RWPS” posts, re-tooled with Part Two worked in here rather than separate, for continuity. But now it’s a big honkin’ Tolstoy. Hey, if it grabs you, you’ll still find enough time.
I Had a Dream Last Night…
….a wickedly delicious dream. My community had somehow put together an all-stakeholder collaboration complete with shared vision, ethics and goals. We had even initiated a well-coordinated action plan with no infighting, no control freaks, no country clubbing. Very strange.
What is this thing called all-community development? It apparently involves education, employers, parents, civic leaders—all the players—doing their part. Burden had partially shifted 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! A banner inside City Hall was 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 was titled “Community Strengths and Objectives”. As I read the bullets I said out loud “pinch me! No…don’t!” This looked like a great environment for families, employers, the whole community to grow together:
- Well-stocked Talent Pool! We have a highly skilled, fully engaged world-class talent pool co-developed and fully utilized by local employers;
- Community retention and recruiting! New families and new businesses stand in line to come here. Strong, stable generational roots have rejuvenated-our 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 is enabled to reach their full potential along their chosen 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? Must remind myself…it’s only a dream. I didn’t want to wake up but I did. Grabbed a pad and pen and scribbled down details before they faded. As I wrote, the fuzzy dream became more clear. Then I got to thinking…“why not? ”
Hold my beer.
Why would I dream all this? Maybe it has something to do with the issues that had been consuming my waking thoughts for too long. I’ve been trying mightily to get involved in repairing just a few of the multitude of potholes in the intersection of Workplace and Education, and Life. There are many issues in the interface among these, or more accurately the lack thereof. While the academic and workforce issues are well known, there’s a Grand Canyon of a gap between knowing and doing. Here are a few of the heavy hitters.
Potholes Needing Repair—Intersection of Workplace, Education and Life
People Issues Poor prep for post high school life: (1) socially / emotionally; (2) for the workplace; (3) for higher education. All ages: hopelessness, lack of direction, apathy…why bother? Increased stress, anxiety, substance abuse, self-harm, suicide; youth bullying, workplace harassment, social polarization.
Economic, job market, demographic and political issues all point to the need for a different approach to preparing young people for post-high school life, as future workers able to meet the moving target of workplace expectations but especially how we prepare them for life itself (social-emotional needs).
System Issues Education budget and school resource cuts, talent pool skills shortage, poorly / unrealistically defined workplace skills needs, unrealistic expectations of “degree required” by employers; higher ed identity crisis, rising cost of higher ed, inaccessibility and irrelevance. Real-world expertise is outside the academic wheel house, and education resources are too thin to change.
EMPLOYERS: “Our talent pool is a mud puddle. We need job candidates who are better prepared!”
EDUCATORS: “But we’re doing a-b-c already, and x-y-z too. We’re doing what we can the best we can with what we’ve got to work with.” It’s just not enough. The Big Question: is it the right stuff?
Paradigm Buster–You want it? Help make it happen! It’s not just education’s responsibility. Need front-end partnering and ongoing collaboration on design and delivery among education, employers, and community.
Education and Workplace Prep Issues
High school graduation rates are unacceptably low. Grads aren’t ready for college rigor or are unable to attend for various reasons. Our obsession with standard test performance and common core is under fire. The battle cry: “we need a new education model” but academia is painfully slow to change. It’s no one’s “fault”: it’s the nature of the education system.
“College is the new high school.” But college is out of reach for too many. The relevance and value of higher education is being challenged too, with over-priced and under-valued degrees (“diploma inflation”). Employers set unrealistic demands for “degree required” even for entry-level jobs when there is no real position-based need. Many positions simply do not require a degree as much as they require specific job skills training. Result: degree or not, employers consistently hire what they feel is unprepared workers and education, counselors and parents still push young people into college-or-bust, especially into STEM fields. The real issue is our perception of “well-prepared” and unrealistic expectations of how much an academic education can prepare the future workforce.
A high school education with an accurately defined curriculum could be of more value than a post-secondary academic degree….if Real-world Prep School (RWPS) is driven directly by employer-identified needs, to ensure content is relevant and timely.
There is no longer any luster in providing a service or making things people want and need …“that’s blue collar, not good enough for my kid.” No matter if the work is skilled, pays well and has a huge upside. “Get a degree so you can get a professional position” is the only game in town. No matter if you’re miserable jockeying a desk the rest of your life, if you manage to find a desk. No matter if you end up owing a ton of money for the privilege of being miserable. Everyone deserves fulfillment.
“Free college” is a sexy political hot potato initiative, but deeper questions need to be answered. Relevance and affordability are an issue. For starters, is a degree even necessary for a field, realistic position and required job skills? A trades program may meet immediate workplace needs better than a STEM education and degree. Mike Rowe isn’t an often-quoted academic expert. But he’s a highly regarded champion of workforce skills development. Mike feels that we’ve created much of the skill gap problem ourselves. He points out that we’re millions of workers short for existing jobs in high-paying occupations:
This is the great, underlying fiction that’s allowed the skills gap to widen. It’s the reason vocational arts have vanished from high school, even as those same vocations now go begging. It’s the reason we now hold 1.3 trillion dollars in student loans. And it’s why we continue to lend money we don’t have to kids who can’t pay it back, educating them for jobs that no longer exist.
The skills gap is real, but it’s not the problem — it’s a symptom of what we value…. we have to stop elevating one form of education over all the others, and begin treating all jobs for what they truly are — opportunities.
Employers are part of the problem, imposing artificial “degree required” stipulations even for low-paying entry level positions. As RWPS coursework is built around employer input, it provides targeted pre-job skills training that is of more value than a degree. Need alignment: stakeholder collaboration to determine actual, realistic pre-employment job requirements: what knowledge and attributes would most likely ensure a new hire’s rapid assimilation?
Also needed: help people redefine “good career choice” (hint: “me” is key, not others’ expectations, and values-based is the key to “me”). We also need to redefine higher ed’s role: when is it of value, for whom and for what career paths, and what should it consist of?
It’s wrong to recruit, coerce or mislead students into choosing a STEM career path, turning them away from a more desired career choice. While a STEM degree may be of value, technical skill sets vary too much from employer to employer. Fine-tuning job training may be more ideally provided after a high-potential candidate is placed. And, tech giants are realizing that social-emotional “soft” skills can be a greater indicator of employee success than STEM-related capabilities. See Google’s Ginormous (Non-technical!) Breakthrough. This Google epiphany has nothing to do with algorithms or SEO…surprise!
Case Study: Right Here In River City
It’s not that “nothing is getting done”. FRI (follows) is a stellar example of good stuff developed by good people with the best intentions. It just needs better focus. A local state legislator pointed me toward this state-wide workforce prep initiative, and some related in-process legislation. My original reaction was critical, but as RWPS needs allies not enemies focus must be “Improve on Existing Effort”! Future Ready Iowa (FRI) is politically vested, it’s here to stay. But it can be better. I am bound and determined to do what I can to help focus and bring this to meaningful action! The original is here: Future Ready Iowa Alliance’s Final Recommendations. Following: a few potholes in the FRI highway and how a community development approach may smooth out a few of the bumps.
FRI is driven by projected workforce skill shortages in STEM fields and high-paying, targeted industry positions. The related goal is 70% post-secondary education or training by 2025. This is my biggest concern. While lofty and noble, the post-secondary goal ignores the entry-level jobs–a more realistic starting point for grads. It’s dangerous to assume that even an advanced degree is a reliable indicator of capability to succeed in a specific position. College-for-all is often not necessary or appropriate, and too many people take on half a lifetime of college debt but still miss the employability mark.
The FRI model is based on industry sector and / or region needs. Not an effective education / training design driver–it’s too broad, too big! And even with a convoluted mashup of agencies and players there has been only minimal action! A terminal case of complexity, overkill, programitis. The need is for more local employer need focus. The RWPS community model is scaled down from FRI, key players are directly connected and involved, coursework is designed to more tightly meet specific needs. Do what makes sense, when it is necessary to do so. Too many times the tool controls the craftsman, the process is sacred and the users’ real needs become secondary. While it is a solid resource, FRI appears to be too overly complex to fully embrace without significant help.
Employers are asked to contribute to a broad pool for scholarship / grant funding: to provide financial support for unknown recipients, unknown studies. Contributors may or may not see a direct benefit. RWPS ensures early relationships / first contact with high potentials. RWPS increases the odds of a better employer-to-candidate fit than FRI. RWPS builds relationships from middle school on, with young people in the local community talent pool. High potentials learners are known to employers early on, and knowing they are being “scouted” for a future job is a powerful motivator for learners!
Along with direct and early interface with their most likely future talent pool—local students—employers need direct input to the local education / training curriculum and process, more control over their talent pool’s preparation.
Front end employer input kick-starts the RWPS model: define actual position skills requirements and realistic requirements to be met with a degree program. And workplace must align with coursework.
Employers aren’t done once they simply provide a list of needs and contribute to scholarship / grant funds. In-depth involvement is ongoing, from needs assessment to co-design, co-delivery and determining placement. Smooth handoff must be seamless from academia to employer, from education to internal training and development.
The need: a co-designed model that promotes systemic change. All we stand to gain is community prosperity, social well-being, personal attainment and whole life satisfaction. Social-emotional development is critical to the greater good. Community-level action is the key, with the catalyst or enabler being a collaborative effort among community stakeholders—education, employers, legislators / local gov’t / civic and community leaders, families. Shared vision and goals. The RWPS model includes adults, not just kids in school.
Families, employers, learners, education, legislators, community…we’re all in this together.
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” community development targets are a sub-surface iceberg. These are the critical issues: 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 and must do better.
For more on the absolute criticality of social-emotional strength, especially for our kids, I hope you’ll take a little time to read Searching For Our Mojo which describes my personal WIIFM…why I am so passionate about S-E development. Focus on our “people” needs and all that economic prosperity stuff will come along for the ride.
The Dream Grows Legs
RWPS is an application-intensive enhancement to existing 5-12 curriculum, balanced between interpersonal / social-emotional development and workplace preparation / hard skills. Modular design is based on employer needs and works within the school’s constraints, ranging from quick-hitter stand-alone lessons to ongoing projects and full-term coursework. Lessons provide resume-worthy bullets in lieu of job experience and learners are continuously coached on how to increase their employability, building portfolios with specific examples of their work.
Initial focus may be on high school students unable to go to college, students nearing graduation or recently graduated from college; employed, unemployed or underemployed adults needing an upgrade of workplace knowledge, skills and abilities.
Important: the RWPS curriculum consists of topics employers identify as essential foundational skills, and utilizes private sector experts for much-needed subject matter expertise as adjunct instructors when possible. RWPS is not in competition with education, as it provides course content typically unavailable in the education curriculum.
RWPS Nurtures Community Growth. It is the education component of a broad community well-being and economic development initiative in disguise. “Whole-person / All-person Development” is the true focus, and it extends into the working adult population and community’s families.
STEM + Social-Emotional Learning: = Develop People, Save the World! Current Shortcomings:
(ONE) Team-based learning and project assignments are the rage right now. But kids are lost when they are assigned to a project team. They don’t have the soft or hard skills needed to ensure project success. Teachers and kids are not natural-born project managers—they need development. A related issue: schools and employers call the same basic tools and techniques different things. The simplest resolution: learn a common language!
(TWO) 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 in education isn’t effective. It’s not deep enough, it’s too infrequent, there’s no ongoing adult coaching. And we need to reach out to the adult population too.
(THREE) 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.
Workforce Prep: More Than Job Skills
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. RWPS coursework includes (1) social-emotional development and (2) mainstream workplace concepts, methods and skills. Priority order is 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, and include direct interface with employers.
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 Corporate Social Responsibility (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, all three have high turnover making productivity levels unsustainable. A community-wide, shared Green Movement vision would be a natural: fight environmental destruction especially atmospheric / climate damage, and health problems from fossil fuel production, transport and usage. Go for the emotional jugular by adding “leave a world worth living in for your kids.” This shared Green vision could boost employers’ retention and recruitment and drive community growth and cohesiveness.
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.
Parting Shots (FINALLY, Right?)
Workforce skills have been my long-time private sector focus, being closely involved in skills development. We saw the demographic projected impact of baby boomer retirements as well as the changing economy and workforce. RWPS was to be my “crowning career achievement” and I’ve grown into a real passion for social-emotional development (SED) from my involvement in the classroom. But I’m driven especially because I want 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 save the world.
I’ve spent considerable time in both education and the workplace. These wild notions have evolved for over fifteen years, it’s my passion. It still needs in-depth analysis to make sure it makes sense. It’s not a natural partnership to marry theoretical, research-based eggheads with pragmatic, results-driven managers. I understand the issues and needs through both sets of eyes, and speak both languages.
My greatest frustration is not inaction. It’s that there is so much being attempted, huge initiatives and some are really, really good. But they’re just a bit off target here and there, or there’s no real focus or cohesiveness and no shared, systemic effort among a broad base of stakeholders. Even more frustrating: with all the shotgun effort and even in spite of all kinds of experts with the best intentions, nothing sustainable is happening! No results.
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 our kids.
Additional Thoughts and Support