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Five Ways to Better Prepare Students for Careers

What are the most important skills that students need to prepare for the 21st Century workforce? More importantly, how can educators help kids gain these competencies?

EducationWorld went straight to the experts to gather some best practices. Our panel included:

Heather M. Beaven, CEO of The Florida Endowment Foundation for Florida's Graduates
Sean Marder, Associate Marketing Manager of CRCC Asia Ltd.
Andrew Rothstein, Chief Academic Officer of the National Academy Foundation
Karen Collias, an educational consultant who specializes in STEM curriculum

Here is the advice they shared:

1. Encourage Teamwork
One of the biggest things that students today need to succeed at work is the ability to work as a team. They need to understand how to communicate, compromise and share credit so that they can be a valuable contributing member to projects. This can be taught in school by encouraging teamwork on some projects and assignments.

“Working in silos is counterproductive for adulthood. Nearly all jobs now are a team effort. Employers want people who understand how to manage a project, how to deliver a product on time and on budget, and how to work in teams with little or no oversight. Schools undermine that when they teach that working with your neighbor is cheating,” said Beaven.

2. Be Future-Focused
In many ways, real life begins at graduation for students -- they begin to put their knowledge into use and manage their own finances and life plans. So schools should focus not just on whether students have learned material, but where it will take students later. Will they be a financial, career and personal success because of what they learned? And when students ask, “Will I ever even use this in real life?” have an answer -- and an example of why they will.

“Right now our schools measure knowledge gain from one year to the next. Conversely, students (even really good ones) come to school as a means to an end. It is a stepping stone to their life goals. We need to bring those two values together. In fact, schools will never realize the full power of their influence on the economic health of our nation until they start measuring post-graduation success,” explained Beaven.

3. Teach Complex Thinking Skills
In the workplace, it’s not just about getting to the right end, but getting there by the best path. This is something that can be reinforced in high school by giving students context for decision-making and solving problems.

“[Jobs in the modern workplace] require innovation, creativity, and the ability to look at a task and not only see the outcome, but also imagine different ways to achieve it. This is why I really like international affairs, politics and even complex math,” said Marder, who is a recent graduate.

4. Prep for College and Career
Although college is extremely important to many careers, it’s not for everyone or every career. For that reason, schools need to offer courses that will prepare students for wherever they are going in life -- and that means offering both college and career preparation. Further, kids need life skills like civics knowledge and the ability to balance a checkbook.

“There needs to be a range of educational options for students because of the great diversity in both the population and the workplace. Career academies and more traditional vocational education have a big role to play in preparing the next generation of workers,” said Rothstein.

5. Round Out the Curriculum
There is no one magic solution that will prepare students today for tomorrow’s workforce, but giving them a well-rounded education including arts; Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM); history and communications courses can help.

“STEM is integral to solving practical problems, but STEM alone is not enough. Music and the arts encourage creativity and innovation while underlining self-discipline and providing individual insights into science and math. History informs us of the struggles and successes of past innovators. Communication helps us ask questions, customize our learning, and spark our passions,” said Collias.

Related resource

Tomorrow’s Workforce: What Students Need
Project-Based Learning for the 21st Century
What Is That Thing? A Lesson on Group Dynamics
Partnership for 21st Century Skills
Seminar Instructional Style Builds 21st Century Skills

Article by Sarah W. Caron, EducationWorld Social Media Editor
Education World
Copyright © 2011 Education World