To a troubling extent, the origins of the skills gap can be traced to failures in the U.S. education system. Seemingly immune to the technological advances that have transformed almost every other aspect of modern life, education in America has remained relatively unchanged since the mid-nineteenth century. The system is self-contained and its methods self-replicating, passed down from colleges of education to teachers over generations. As Massachusetts’ former education commissioner David P. Driscoll is fond of noting, “If Horace Mann were alive today, the only institution he would recognize would be our schools.” Without influence and ideas from outside the system, it is easy to see how American education could continue in the same way for decades into the future.
Education cannot be successful with K-12 educators working on their own. And I say this as a former Deputy Chancellor in New York City. Higher education cannot be successful without deep collaboration with the K-12 system. And the missing piece is employers. We need to work together to improve college readiness and completion, and to ensure there are a variety of options for students to have careers that are important to them and to New York State. Employers can’t sit back and say we wish education were better. We need to roll up our sleeves and help.
— Stanley S. Litow, IBM
In recent years, the business community has taken the lead in calling for changes to bring our education system into step with the demands of today’s world. Their investments in and partnerships with education are bearing fruit.
Many of the respondents to a recent Public Policy Institute survey said that their company is currently investing in or collaborating with an education or training institution or program, or that they had done so recently. Their partners included every type of public and private education and training provider, but the most common were SUNY two- and four-year institutions. Also very common were partnerships with Boards of Cooperative Educational Services (BOCES), followed by K-12 schools and districts—including some charters, and private schools—and private colleges and universities. One respondent reported partnering with an early learning program. Perhaps most innovative are the collaborations with NYS P-TECH programs, which bring together school districts, higher education institutions, and employer partners to provide an integrated high school and associate degree program that prepares students to step right into middle skills jobs.
Those employers who were not involved in any education and training partnerships expressed strong interest in such collaborations. In fact, more than 80% said they would be interested in partnering with a community college, and only one respondent said their company would not be interested in any kind of partnership. Interest was particularly strong in partnering with higher education institutions and with BOCES, which are known for offering career and technical education programs, as opposed to K-12 and early learning programs. This reflects the broader pattern of demand for employees with technical skills and at least some college education, and likely also reflects executives’ desire to realize a relatively rapid return on their investments.
Which education/training partners is your company most interested in?