An Argument for Erasing the Boundaries Between High School, College, and Careers–and Creating One New System That Works for Everyone
Not too long ago, many highways had toll booths. Drivers had to slow to a stop, fish around for exact change, and toss it into a metal bucket. If you missed, you were forbidden to climb out and retrieve your money; you just had to find some more and try again. Once you got it right, you waited for a gate to lift and the light to change from red to green. Now electronic systems with catchy names like “FasTrak” or “E-ZPass” collect tolls automatically and move travelers right through under an invisible eye; there are no barriers, no need to slow down. If only there were some kind of “Fast Pass” to smooth the transition from high school to college and careers. But the gates are many and the lights far too often red, especially for young people from low-income backgrounds, and, in particular, those who are Black, Latinx, and Native American and face additional barriers.
This white paper argues that the United States needs something like a “Fast Pass” for public education and training—a way to eliminate the many structural barriers that stop millions of young people in their tracks after high school and derail their efforts to build a better life for themselves and their families. The obstacles prevent them from going to college, earning a postsecondary credential with value in the labor market, and starting a well-paying career. For decades, innovators have tinkered with existing models and come up with good ideas that have created meaningful change, at least in isolated pockets. But attempts to scale solutions that help students from all backgrounds complete college and find good jobs so far have failed. They have not been sufficient to address the problems endemic to our broken—and inequitable—systems.
How schools can better prepare young people for working life in the era of COVID-19
The focus of this working paper is on how secondary schools can optimise young people’s preparation for adult employment at a time of extreme labour market turbulence. By reviewing academic analysis of national longitudinal datasets, it is possible to identify indicators of comparative adult success. How teenagers (i) think about their futures in work and what they do to (ii) explore and (iii) experience workplaces within and outside of schools is consistently associated with better than expected employment outcomes in adulthood. Data-driven career guidance will take such indicators into account within delivery. Analysis of the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) 2018 illustrates substantial variation in the extent of such career readiness between and within countries. Variation in career readiness is particularly associated with disadvantage. More effective education systems will ensure schools systematically address inequalities in teenage access to information and support in preparing for working life.
Young people suffer disproportionately in any recession and that initiated by the COVID- 19 pandemic promises to be no exception. Lacking useful work experience, information and contacts, young people struggle to compete for available employment. Analysis of national longitudinal data shows however, that reliable indicators exist of young people’s career readiness: better than anticipated adult employment outcomes are statistically connected to (i) what teenagers think about their futures in work, (ii) the extent to which they explore potential futures, and (iii) whether they gain workplace experience while still in school. Collectively, such data-driven indicators reveal greater student agency in approaching school-to-work transitions.
Despite a growing set of innovators, America struggles to connect education and career
Working to Learn
As the structure and makeup of the American workforce shift, the education and training system has lagged behind the rate of economic change. Yet, there is a clear appetite among learners, workers, employers, and funders for new models of working and learning. The demand for new models has only accelerated during the COVID-19 pandemic, as Americans indicate more interest in pursuing non-degree options amid economic uncertainty and social distancing.1 As a result, organizations that train individuals for jobs are expanding, adapting, and attracting new attention.
We call this growing set of for-profit, non-profit, and public programs the “education-and-employment sector.” We use this term to be intentionally inclusive of organizations that straddle both the postsecondary education and employment sectors. Many of these new models are emerging from the world of start-ups and social entrepreneurship. These organizations often sit outside the confines of traditional K-12 and higher education systems, and therefore, have proven difficult for education data sources to capture. Though they employ diverse approaches, they share a common goal: to help more Americans achieve economic success through a combination of educational attainment and work experience.
In October 2019, New Profit, a venture philanthropy organization, announced a new initiative, Postsecondary Innovation for Equity (PIE). PIE was designed to support innovative organizations that are helping young people access “postsecondary education and work experience needed to access upwardly mobile careers.” Through an open application process, 316 organizations applied for unrestricted grants of $100,000 and capacity building support. 20 organizations were ultimately selected as winners.