The Limits of “Career Ready”
“College and career ready.” That's the mission of seemingly everyone in education these days. You hear it from the federal Department of Education, from the designers of the Common Core standards, from the various education reform advocacy groups, and so on. My second year in the classroom, the class motto was “Every student, by the end of the year, on track to succeed in college and career.”
Diving past the rhetoric raises some big questions, particularly about employers' responsibility to train employees.
“College ready” is a bit easier to define, largely because most colleges have similar needs in terms of student knowledge and skills. But what about “career ready”? Does this mean that every student who doesn't go to college should be fully equipped to jump into any job with a minimum of training? That would appear ridiculous, but it is apparently the expectation of many of today's employers.
Peter Cappelli, a Wharton business professor, investigated the so-called “skills gap” earlier this month in Time, and his findings are quite interesting. He looked at different recent surveys of employers and specifically honed in on questions of training and readiness. He found, for example, that 10% of employers who claim to have a hard time finding someone to fill a job are really having a hard time finding someone to fill the job for the pay they offer. As he says, “That’s not a skill shortage, it’s simply being unwilling to pay the going price.”
Perhaps more relevant, he found that only 15% of employers struggling to find adequately “skilled” employees cite “lack of candidate knowledge” as the problem. The real issue for these employers is that they want candidates to already have experience with the particular job they're seeking to fill. Cappelli offers a particularly absurd example of a requirement that candidates “demonstrate prior success in operating cotton candy machines.”
He also points to a 2011 survey finding in which a mere “21% of U.S. employees had received any employer-provided formal training in the past five years.” This is where I really struggle with an over-broad definition of “career ready.” Employers looking for skills specific to their job site have a responsibility to train their employees, not expect the school system to do it for them.
This should serve as a warning to investigate the specifics of who wants what when demanding students be “career ready.” Public education is supposed to broaden students' minds, help them explore interests, and provide general career and life skills, not train them for specific private employers. Let's make sure we remember that.