Elevate Employability Skills as a Learning Outcome
A focus on making all students, including those who plan on pursuing a college degree, “employable” or career-ready
Arkansas schools must focus on ensuring that all students, including those who plan on pursuing a college degree, are “employable” or career-ready. This includes the development of in-demand technical skills that align with current and projected hiring needs, as well as life skills, such as communication, collaboration and leadership. Through this work, we can remove any negative stigma of vocational and technical career preparatory programs and provide options for college preparatory students to also explore such coursework.
Need for Focus Beyond College-Bound
The need this shift to middle- and highly-skilled workers is especially urgent for Arkansas. Nearly 70 percent of current jobs in Arkansas require only a high school diploma or less, most of which do not pay family-supporting wages. Only 30 percent of these jobs require postsecondary credentials from an institution of higher learning. At the same time, many employers face a shortage of skilled, technical workers for positions that require either vocational or on-the-job training. We need to acknowledge that not every Arkansas student wants to or needs a college degree to succeed.
Technology is Transforming Our Workforce
Technology is rapidly changing the workforce—and the needs of employers in the region. Roles in transportation and logistics, sales, business and financial operations, and administration are all facing a future of tremendous change from automation. Industries expecting growth include computer science, architecture, engineering and mathematics. Arkansas, with its abundant natural resources and strong, united communities, is well-positioned to take advantage of inevitable shifts in our economy.
Future employment opportunities will be characterized by non-routine tasks that cannot be automated, and place a premium on creativity, emotional intelligence and cognitive flexibility. K-12 education must change to keep pace and out-of-school learning must be extended through broadband access to create opportunities for connected learning. There is a need to provide youth with hands-on experiences that complement classroom learning with employability skills and career preparation. This work is already being supported through the Governor’s computer science initiative and local partnerships—as seen in our ForwARd Communities—between schools, institutions of higher education, and businesses small and large. And this shift is echoed in the Arkansas Department of Education’s Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) plan, whose development was supported by ForwARd.