As we look around the corner to the occupations of tomorrow, schools and states will need to be more dynamic and future oriented–especially when it comes to career and technical education. – Vicki Phillips in Forbes

By Emily Kingsland

McKinseyReportIn order to successfully help young people prepare for employment, education providers and employers must open up the lines of communication and become more engaged in each other’s worlds.  In the most innovative and effective school-to-work systems around the globe, it is common for employers to help design post-secondary training curricula or to offer their employees as faculty to training programs.  At the same time, education providers should actively encourage students to spend half their time on a job site and help them secure interview opportunities.

These findings from a McKinsey & Company report published in December are not all that surprising.  In fact, many of the education systems scoring at the top of the international league tables have already reached these conclusions and implemented similar strategies.  After returning from Singapore last year, Marc Tucker recapped what he had observed, writing, “In Singapore, young people not headed to University go either into the upper secondary vocational education system or into one of the polytechnics.  In the upper secondary vocational system, there is no sandwich program alternating time in the workplace with time in school.  [Their experience] is all in school, but the Singaporeans have persuaded the companies to give them the state-of-the-art machines they need in the classrooms (working engines for current model cars, for example, with cutaway engines for the auto mechanics program) and have also persuaded the firms that it is in their interest to regularly cycle the school instructors through their firms to keep their skills up to date.”  This city-state also boasts one of the lowest rates of youth unemployment in the industrialized world.

According to McKinsey, the second common success factor occurs when employers and education providers work with their students early and intensely so the education-to-employment journey is treated as one continuum in which employers commit to hire young people before they are even enrolled in a program and are invested in building their skills.  What the report, Education to Employment: Designing a System that Works, brings to the table is powerful examples of where this is working around the world.  One model of a cohesive school-to-work continuum can be found in China’s Vocational Training Holdings (CVTH), the largest training institute for China’s automotive industry.  This vocational education program establishes and maintains relationships with about 1,800 employers, which provide internship opportunities and “promises to hire”.  The CVTH provides their students with access to a large database that houses information on each of the employers such as company size, how many workers they need, and the type of worker required.  Prior to graduation from CVTH, students take a survey on their ideal job placement situation and are matched to an employer based on their preferences.  The Institute then provides post-graduation support to students for a year if they are not happy with their initial placement.  Within three months of graduation, 80 percent of CVTH graduates are employed and of the students that are not, many of them have exited the job market to pursue higher education degrees.

McKinseySurveyThe report authors surveyed young people, education providers and employers in nine countries including Brazil, Germany, India, Mexico, Morocco, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, the United Kingdom and the United States.  They found that the road from postsecondary education to employment looks vastly different from one perspective to the next.  While 72 percent of education providers in the survey believe new graduates are ready to take on entry-level positions, fewer than half of young people and employers agreed.  The United States demonstrated one of the widest opinion gaps on this issue with 87 percent of education providers stating that graduates and new hires are adequately prepared for entry-level work and only 49 percent of employers thinking this is the case.

This disconnect is partly explained by the lack of communication between employers, educators and youth.  A third of employers in the surveyed countries said they never communicate with education providers and of those that do, fewer than half say it has proven effective.  Meanwhile, more than a third of educators report that they are unable to estimate the job-placement rates of their graduates.  When surveyed, educators were asked to identify their priorities.  Helping students find jobs after graduation fell to the middle of the list for both private and public education providers.

Young people are also failing to connect the dots with less than half considering the job openings and wage levels of the professions most commonly associated with their selected major.  And while nearly 60 percent of youth view on-the-job training and hands-on learning as the most effective instructional technique, only 24 percent of academic-program graduates and 37 percent of vocational graduates said that they were enrolled in programs that regularly provided these types of experiences.

Another interesting finding is the general low perception of vocational schools.  While the majority of young people believe vocational training is more helpful than an academic track in finding a job, less than half of those surveyed actually enrolled in these types of programs.  Of the nine countries studied, Germany is the only place where students think academic schools and vocational schools are held in equal esteem. Germany and a number of other Northern European and Asian countries, provide young people with high quality post-secondary education and training experiences linked closely to labor market needs.  This experience provides young people with a route to good jobs so it is not surprising that perceptions about vocation training differ when quality systems are in place, students are participating in them, and they are functioning well.

Education to Employment suggests that stakeholders implement three interventions to improve the school-to-work transition.  The first intervention is to collect and disseminate more data to students and parents on career options and training pathways.  Education institutions should offer more information about their job placement rates and their graduates’ career trajectories.  In Singapore, the Ministry of Education requires education providers to take an annual survey of their graduates about six months after graduation to collect data on employment status and salary.

Secondly, the report calls for multiple providers and employers to work together within a particular industry.  As an example, the report references Apprenticeship 2000, an industry-led coalition founded in Charlotte, North Carolina by two German companies, Blum (a hardware fabricator) and Daetwyler (a printing equipment manufacturer).  Blum and Daetwyler wanted to establish a strong pipeline of employees that would have the guaranteed specialized skills they needed.  So using the German apprenticeship model, they worked with a local community college to set-up the program and made it available to qualified high school students and experienced workers.  The employer coalition has grown to include eight members that commit to covering the cost of training and wages of its apprenticeships over a 3.5-year period.  Students who complete the program earn an associates degree in manufacturing technology, bring in $9 an hour while studying and are guaranteed employment upon successful completion of the program.  Member companies agree to a common curriculum, recruit as a group and are forbidden from poaching employees.

The last recommendation is to create “system integrators”, an individual or a group responsible for the high-level view of the fragmented education-to-employment system.  These “system integrators” would be charged with working with education providers and employers to develop skill solutions, gather data and identify and share positive examples.  In Australia, the Australian Workforce and Productivity Agency (formerly known as Skills Australia) serves as the “system integrator” and is responsible for driving greater collaboration between industry providers and the government on workforce development issues.  The agency is responsible for critical functions such as administering the new National Workforce Development Fund to deliver training for high-priority industries and occupations and to conduct skills and workforce research on the quality of jobs and future working life in Australia.

The full report and a number of additional case studies can be found here:

The European Commission looks across member countries education and training systems and sets new targets for 2020

In a recent publication from November 2012, the European Commission identified new strategic priorities in meeting the education and training goals that have been set for European Union member countries.  This is part of the broader, ongoing Europe 2020 initiative undertaken by the European Commission in which member countries have agreed on growth and improvement targets in the areas of employment, research and development, climate change and energy sustainability, education, and fighting poverty and social exclusion to achieve in the next decade.

The education and training goals provide a glimpse into the arenas that the EU will focus its funding and technical assistance support on in the coming decade.  These include:

  • developing and strengthening quality vocational education and training systems that link to the workplace;
  • improving the education and training outcomes of students in at-risk groups;
  • improving the teaching and learning of 21st century skills;
  • helping low-skilled adults acquire usable skills;
  • increasing the use of technology in teaching and assessment; and
  • improving the teaching profession.

The European Commission also identified priority roles for the EU to take to help their member countries meet these goals.  These include monitoring progress towards these goals in the member countries; creating an apprenticeship alliance across the EU; and creating a European Area for Skills and Qualifications.

Along with setting new goals for 2020, the European Commission also released a country-level analysis that provides a baseline of 27 member countries against the new 2020 goals.  The report also provides descriptions of major policy initiatives and reforms that they plan to implement as they work toward these goals.  You can learn more about the initiative here.