Last week, I represented Jobs for the Future at a White House discussion focused on STEM high schools and business and industry’s role in supporting young people in their STEM and career-focused learning. Convened by Change the Equation (CTEq), I joined a group of executives from leading national companies—such as Honda, IBM, and DuPont—as well as other nonprofits, federal agencies, universities, and practitioners to draft potential action steps for employers to support STEM learning in four key areas: Strategic Funding, Community STEM Advocates, Work-Based Learning Curriculum, and Student Internships.
Through Jobs for the Future’s work across K-12 and postsecondary education, workforce development, economic development, and policy, we know that STEM skills are in-demand and STEM opportunities abound in our labor market. We see STEM—science, technology, engineering, and math—cross-cutting all industry sectors and critical for all Americans, especially our underserved populations, in order to be competitive in our local and global economies. But working in a STEM field or applying STEM knowledge in practice requires more than just the rote memorization and regurgitation of content from these four content areas; STEM is dynamic and complex, and requires both strong technical and adaptive skills that empower people to tackle challenges in new ways.
In our Pathways to Prosperity Network, JFF is partnering with 12 states to build systems of grades 9-14 rigorous career pathways that are focused on STEM industry sectors, such as information technology, advanced manufacturing, and heath care. These pathways integrate core STEM skills, including: creative design thinking, using STEM knowledge in real-world contexts, active curiosity, complex problem-solving in messy situations, lifelong learning, and expertise in communication, teamwork, and persistence. We build these pathways to be permeable, providing steppingstones to a wide range of opportunities and occupations, and a transferrable foundation of STEM skills that is bolstered by the simultaneous study of sophisticated theory and its application to students’ future careers and their communities. Employer engagement is essential for student success in these pathways, as employers provide an array of work-based learning opportunities that allow students to develop and practice their STEM skills and gain perspective into their possible futures and possible selves. At this White House event, I shared our Network successes in engaging employers as lead Pathways partners, as well as our challenges in building equitable work-based delivery systems for young people at scale.
In addition to co-creating a list of meaningful engagement options for CTEq’s corporate members, this White House meeting will also inform the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy rollout of the Next Generation High Schools initiative, a $125M competitive U.S. Department of Education grant program that is slated to launch later this year. With JFF’s endorsement, U.S. Senator Baldwin recently introduced the NextGen High Schools Act to support this important initiative. Gina Burkhardt, JFF’s president and CEO remarked, “High schools are a critical part of preparing our nation’s young people for college and productive careers. It is essential that we invest in making high school an experience that challenges and engages young people while providing the skills they need to earn valuable postsecondary credentials leading to meaningful careers. And we owe it to students to create efficient educational paths that save time and money. The Next Generation High Schools Act will do just that, by spurring high school reforms that create the student-centered college and career experiences in high school that lead to success."
JFF is excited to serve as a thought partner, both to Change the Equation as they connect, engage, and mobilize their their corporate member partners in supporting high school work-based learning across the country; as well as to federal agencies and policymakers as they create and implement initiatives that strengthen and advance STEM education and 9-14 career pathways. We believe that our Pathways to Prosperity Network states provide innovative state and regional models for transforming education systems through cross-sectoral partnerships that build pathways to and through postsecondary credentials and into the labor market. These pathways are reverse-engineered from employer needs, and incorporate the key STEM knowledge and skills we all need for today and into the future.