Educators and Business Leaders Must Collaborate to Build a Highly Skilled Workforce

By National School Boards Association

By Thomas J. Gentzel and Glenn Marshall

In just three years, the gap between trained workers and job openings could threaten our nation’s economic security, reduce individual prosperity and create larger income gaps, if a 2020 forecast by the Bureau of Labor Statistics comes to fruition. This is a cause for concern but it is not a future written in stone--we know how to solve these problems, we can avoid the political fray, but we do have to decide to move.

Business leaders from a variety of sectors dependent on a skilled workforce and education leaders representing educators, parents and local policymakers recently participated in a summit to discuss our challenges and to try to find a better path forward. We’ve shared a vision for our children but rarely engaged each other to jointly problem-solve. The stakes are different now. We agreed we need to work together at a higher level and in a more cooperative manner to support our children and our communities.

The rapidly changing economic landscape demands a more adept and knowledgeable workforce. While the jobs of the future—many of which do not yet exist—are impossible to predict, people will need the ability to think critically, problem-solve and possess a higher level of communication and computation skills so they can adapt to fast-moving environments and develop new skills as the workplace shifts.

Our education system has constantly evolved to help prepare students for the future and the demand to continue to do more is growing. As a driver of workforce development, our education system must have the flexibility to continue to innovate, enhance personalized learning, expand the use of technology, construct optimal learning environments and develop alternative instruction programs. Business and educators across the country realize the challenges and pressures on our education systems are immense. There are impending teacher shortages, shifting requirements of the teaching profession, rapidly changing demographics and increasing resource inequities to name a few issues to address.

We can overcome these obstacles with greater cooperation between the business and educator communities. Summit participants agreed to a set of shared priorities built on two fundamental ideas: We believe an informed, skilled and active workforce is essential to revitalizing and accelerating economic and civic development in communities throughout the country. And, a strong and dynamic public education system plays a vital role in this effort. We will support these beliefs by taking three actions:

  • First, identify the skills needed for success in the workforce of the future. Education is essential in helping young learners develop the skills and knowledge needed for success in both the global economy and their local communities. These skills and knowledge should be identified in partnership with the business and greater communities, so that they are linked to economic and civic needs, and they should drive curricular and instructional strategies in our schools.
  • Second, urgently address the inequities in opportunity and attainment that have historically plagued many students living in poverty and rural communities, as well as specific populations. All students deserve an education that prepares them for future success. While there are many economic and social barriers to equitable access, innovations in early childhood education and digital learning, among other areas, have the potential to expand learning opportunities to all.
  • Third, elevate the education profession. Research tells us that the single most influential in-school factor in student learning is the teacher. It also tells us that school leadership plays a key role in the retention of high-quality teachers and establishing school cultures that encourage students to learn. While other systemic features affect the conditions for student learning, building, enhancing and sustaining a highly skilled and knowledgeable professional corps of teachers and other school and district leaders deserves priority attention at all levels of government. This can only happen when the entire continuum of educator professional learning, from the early stages of preparation for new teacher, principal and superintendent candidates through to the final years of a career, is supported.

While the business and education sectors have worked to achieve progress on these actions, we have done so independently and neither group alone has been able to bring change at scale. To overcome the challenges to prepare all students for success in the modern economy—which is necessary for our nation to maintain the productivity and innovation that have given us all our collective standard of living—our unique fusion of ideas recognizes that collaboration is the key. It’s time to work together in a more cooperative way to address these issues so that we can enhance the quality of life for our children and the nation.

Thomas J. Gentzel is executive director and CEO of the National School Boards Association and chairman of the board of directors of the Learning First Alliance.

Glenn Marshall is board member of the Association for Manufacturing Excellence and a retired executive of Newport News Shipbuilding.

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Glenn Marshall speaking

Glenn Marshall spoke on the importance of apprenticeships as part of a recent event between LFA members and the business community at the Embassy of Switzerland in Washington.