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How to Prepare DSM Students for the Future of Work

How to Prepare DSM Students for the Future of Work

August 5, 2019

Education is the great equalizer. It’s the engine of social mobility. Fueled by knowledge, a young high school graduate can conquer college (or trade school), land their dream job, become independent from their parents, spark innovation at their company and grow their standard of living each year. Well…at least that’s how it should be! 

The State of Iowa should be proud of our high school graduation rate, which is #1 in the country at 91%. However, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, only 28% of Iowans achieve a bachelor’s degree and only 9% achieve an advanced degree, ranking #35 and #41, respectively. According to the Iowa Workforce Development, only 58% of Iowans (65% in DSM) have completed any type of education or training beyond high school.

Consequently, over half of employers have difficulty filling positions because of a lack of qualified candidates. The “skills gap” widens in STEM professions needing higher level skills. Indicators point to future growth in STEM jobs considerably outpacing non-STEM jobs. To ensure our region remains one of the top places for a career, it is crucial to develop an educational pipeline that aligns to the future workforce needs. Promising work is underway through state efforts like Future Ready Iowa and regionally with Education Drives Our Greater Economy or EDGE, to name a few.

So, how can the educational pipeline evolve to better align today’s youth to tomorrow’s workforce? How can the focus on knowledge be looked at a little differently? Is there a better way to ensure skills, competencies and attitudes are equal players with knowledge in preparing today’s students to succeed in tomorrow’s workforce? 

Knowledge (The Who) — Know Thyself

The traditional educational purpose of “to gain knowledge” seems less important now with Google, Alexa and Siri. I’m not suggesting education abandons core subjects such as reading, math and science, but much more focus should be on self-knowledge, the lynchpin to successful paths that could follow. Each year starting in middle school, students should write down, evolve and confirm their pillars of self-knowledge: beliefs, interests and strengths. 

Attitude (The Why) — Key to the Behavior Equation

How can an educator or manager spend so much time and energy telling their student or employee the expectations for success, only to be frustrated or disappointed by their behavior? We’ve seen it countless times…. the student who fails the class after repeatedly missing assignments; or the employee who doesn’t prepare for a big presentation. They know what it takes to succeed, yet their behavior just doesn’t match. Often, the missing part of the equation is having the right attitude.   

Having the right (or wrong) attitude is often inspired by others. Encouraging positive role models to interact with students is a time-tested, inspiration input and having an “adult at school who cares” is one of the key indicators of student engagement. How about an intentional, state-wide effort to scale individual mentors at schools, or business professionals that come into the schools? 

Mindset is another effective input that can produce desired attitudes. It is encouraging to see Growth Mindset and an Entrepreneurial Mindset as supplemental lessons in the classrooms, but they would be more impactful weaved into the core curriculum. These types of attitude assets benefit all students, in any career path by building resiliency, problem solving and adaptability. 

Skills (The What) — On-Demand to In-Demand

How can educators be more purposeful in growing awareness for projected high demand jobs and developing in-demand skills? The Iowa Workforce Development’s occupational projections site is something that every middle and high school teacher should know and use as tool in the classroom. Telling a teenager “they can be whatever they want to be” sounds nice, but let’s make sure of two things: it aligns with the individual (self-knowledge) and projected job openings. When encouraging student career paths, let’s move away from “on- demand” to “in-demand.” 

Additionally, even as we approach the “Automation Age,” below are examples of three skills that will always be in-demand:

· Soft skills: to build business and personal relationships

· Financial literacy skills: to plan and generate prosperity individually and corporately

· Transitional skills: to navigate life’s chapters and adapt to an ever-changing global economy. 

Competencies (The How) — “Involve me and I learn”

As the business community grows awareness for high demand skills and jobs, students should experience hands-on what it takes to be successful in those work settings. Bringing business professionals into the classroom or having students visit the work-site for a job shadow or internship can be very effective. Programs like Des Moines Public School’s Central Campus, Dowling Catholic’s Maroons in STEM Careers, Waukee’s APEX and Ankeny’s Orbis are all aspiring models — the challenge and the opportunity is to offer similar real-world learning to all students in Greater Des Moines DSM).Benjamin Franklin’s wisdom comes to mind, who said, “tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn.”

Further aligning education and the workforce is not only possible, but it is also needed. Self-knowledge should be the first step a student takes on their workforce journey. Then, seek alignment with jobs and career pathways that are in demand. Finally, schools and businesses can collaborate to foster the skills, competencies, and attitudes students need to build a better future for themselves and our region.

Education Drives our Greater Economy (EDGE) is an initiative of Capital Crossroads: A Vision for Greater Des Moines (DSM) and the region focused on improving education attainment from early childhood learning through life-long learning. Under the leadership of the Greater Des Moines Partnership, EDGE aims to ensure that 75% of DSM working-age adults have postsecondary degrees, certificates or other credentials by 2025 that align with workforce needs.
Ryan Osborn

A native Iowan, Ryan Osborn holds a Master of Education from Loyola University Chicago and a Master of Business Administration from the University of Iowa. Ryan currently serves as the president of Junior Achievement of Central Iowa, a youth empowerment organization that fosters financial literacy, workforce readiness and entrepreneurship.