It’s time to stop short-changing education

We’ve all heard, and in some cases experienced the horror stories. College graduates (often star athletes) who are unable to read and write at the eighth grade level. High school graduates who cannot complete even the most basic math problems.

Add to that the recent Deloitte report finding that more than 700,000 skilled jobs in manufacturing will not be filled in the near future because of lack of qualified applicants.

I had previous experience with several manufacturing and food processing plants during my career and quickly learned which local schools produced illiterate “graduates” or dropouts who were completely without basic work survival skills. Twice, I resorted to teaching basic reading and math skills to current employees who were failing at the most basic tasks.

It’s clear to me that we have a major disconnect in our current process of preparing young people for the work force. It should not be necessary for a company to use its precious resources to teach employees things they should have learned in grade school!

Here are some things we should be doing NOW to prepare our young people for their futures, and to prevent the predicted labor shortages.

Change Expectations

First, we must teach our children the importance of basic English and math skills for every student. We must change the ways we teach these skills in our classrooms, and the current practice of “teaching for the tests” must be abandoned for a return to the more effective “teaching for life” practices of the past.

We must lessen the emphasis on professions like medicine, engineering and the sciences, and elevate learning for trade skills like computer sciences, manufacturing processes, and transportation.

And we must cease our societal denigration of any career field that does not carry an advanced degree. The manufacturing sector of our economy is vital to our continued growth and stability of our country, but our young people have such a negative image of “working in a plant” that many will not even consider manufacturing as a career field. This must change.

I’m not saying the professional fields are not worthy of study. Of course they are. But we must all understand that many students have no interest in becoming a doctor or research scientist, and for those students we must provide other training opportunities.

Technical Education

Many of our school systems no longer offer technical education options in their standard curriculum, so students who are not college bound are severely limited in their learning options. Whatever happened to automotive mechanics, wood shop, and welding? Young people who leave or graduate high school with these skills are immediately qualified for many well-paying jobs, but our emphasis on college prep programs has relegated these skill programs to second class when it comes to available funding. We must change this immediately.

Our career programs must be changed to include the manufacturing skills jobs like machine operator, blueprint reading, quality assurance technician and so on. Until this happens, young people will leave school having no idea what the possibilities are for them.

Return to Basics

And let’s not forget to recognize and award students who succeed in English and math in grade school. We recognize attendance, and club participation, and citizenship, but there are few rewards for excellence in the two most critical learning areas.

Finally, before I leave my soap box, those programs that allow high school Advanced Placement students to earn college credit while still in high school must be expanded to include advanced technical education options. By doing that, more students who do not plan to go to college will be better prepared immediately to enter the work force, and many may reconsider the college option if technical degrees are more available. Let’s stop short-changing these students and give them a hand up to better entry level jobs!

What about you? What other ideas do you have for better preparing grade school and high school students for non-professional career fields? Where are the public schools that are succeeding in this area? I’d love to hear some good news, so please comment below and let’s start spreading the good news!

About Pat Kelley, MS, SPHR

Pat Kelley, MS, SPHR, is the author of three non-fiction books, including the Second Edition of Hiring Right: A Business Blueprint for Lower Turnover and Higher Profits. She is a retired Human Resources Director with more than 40 years' experience. Certified as a Senior Professional in Human Resources, she is a recipient of the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Arkansas Society for Human Resource Management.
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