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Preparing Students for Life Beyond School: Whose Job Is It?

Youth are in school from Kindergarten until they enter the workforce. But preparing them to enter and navigate the complex, constantly changing career maze that is today’s labour market is not in the curriculum. Most educators feel unprepared and ill-equipped to help students prepare for jobs.

So, whose job is it?

The ultimate goal of education should be to prepare students for success in life beyond school – not just college-ready, but life-ready. Work is only one element of adult life. Nonetheless, most adults spend more time working than anything but sleeping. Our career choices profoundly impact every aspect of our lives. Still, we graduate students who lack key competencies we all now need for success and happiness in work and life.

Roughly 2 in 5 young people, from dropouts to those with degrees, fail to “launch” smoothly from school to work. Many begin their careers in low wage jobs unrelated to their studies and interests, unsure how or if they will ever land a “good” job. “Many young people find out who they are and where they belong by bouncing off things (experiences) for several years until they eventually commit or settle.” (Career Crafting the Decade after High School, Cathy Campbell, Peggy Dutton) Their prospects of early student loan repayment (average $30,000+), buying a car, home, and building a life and family may seem bleak to them, and to their parents.

Unemployment, underemployment, employee dissatisfaction and disengagement cost tens of billions of dollars each year. Lost productivity and reduced competitiveness impact employers and communities. Lost income, sales and corporate tax revenues, social assistance, corrections, and stress-induced health costs alone run into billions of dollars annually for governments, employers, and communities. The human costs of failed launches are even higher. We need people in good jobs, fully engaged in creating economic prosperity for their employers, their families and their communities.

Given the exodus of high-end “boomer” talent underway, ensuring young people launch successfully from school to good jobs is critical. Today’s school leavers will carry the primary burden of taxation for the next 40 years. We all need them to be successful. Young people in good jobs are happier, healthier, and more productive, they pay higher taxes, and they contribute more to their families and communities. Those that lose their early adult years drifting between underemployment and unemployment may never recover lost ground. Rather than contributing to prosperity for all they diminish it for all. From every perspective, dropouts and failed launches are simply too costly in human and economic terms to tolerate.

So, whose job is it to prepare students for life beyond school?

Thoughtexchanges addressed this question at the Harvard Graduate School of Education’s Pathways to Prosperity Conference in March, 2013, the National Career Development Conference in July, 2013 and The Association of Career and Technical Educators Conference in November, 2013. Over 500 eminent education, government, business, community and career development leaders reflected for two weeks - one month prior to each conference - then submitted their ideas. They then had two weeks to read others’ ideas and vote for the best. Of the hundreds of ideas generated, the following rose to the top:

  1. Educators and employers must collaborate to provide personalized, strengths-based, real-world, work- and project-based learning opportunities for students.

  2. Career and labour market information and guidance provision must be enhanced so students can make informed decisions based on their interests and their employment prospects.

  3. All learning pathways to in-demand careers deserve priority and respect. The “college for all” mentality does a disservice to many students and yields too few graduates with the competencies and experience employers, and our communities, need.

  4. Preparing students to transition from school to success requires collaboration among educators, parents, employers, and community agencies. Everyone is a stakeholder so it’s everyone’s job!

This is why we created Transitions Canada Coalition!

Sincerely yours,

Phil Jarvis

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