The Never-Ending Debate – Tackling the Disconnect Between Education and the Workforce

The path to success in the United States is often associated with one’s educational accomplishments. This standard provides a blueprint for young people: graduate high school, earn a bachelor’s degree, and achieve high career outcomes. However, a growing disconnect between education achievement and workforce outcomes threatens economic mobility. The International Labour Organization (ILO, 2021) states that only half of employees globally hold jobs matching their level of education.  

So, where is this disconnect between the traditional education systems and the needs of the workforce and employees?

Before joining NYEC, I served young people experiencing homelessness in New York City. Connecting them to stable employment was one of my organization’s greatest challenges. In my new role, I’ve been able to dive deep on the state of knowledge around employer engagement .

As anyone who has tried to place opportunity youth in employment knows, employers are often reluctant to hire our young people. Match this with gap between the educational system and the needs of employers, the results are evident, with youth unemployment composing of twice the nation’s average, 8.2%. The involvement of employers in workforce programs are crucial in aligning the transition from classroom to job site and ensuring the skills being taught are what will actually be useful when youth enter their chosen field. 

As I’ve continued researching, it is clear that these systems have long been disjointed, only serving one purpose that has since been outdated: School system being created to pump out industry workers and not thought leaders.  

An industrial economy prioritizes job-specific technical skills and longevity in employment. This workplace could not use, and in face did not want, too much creativity or ingenuity among the workforce. A small number of people acted as decision makers, and for this old work style, the public schools were ideal. The schools did a magnificent job of turning out just the kind of product required. Workers only needed enough education to read, write and comprehend instructions. 

Our knowledge economy requires nearly the opposite: creative and critical thinkers, who can collaborate with diverse sets of colleagues on shifting and abstract projects. In the emerging high-performance workplace virtually, everyone acts as a decision maker. With a new game requires new rules. A process of education invention is required to restructure schools around teaching the SCANS foundation skills and competencies so that “learning to do” is integrated with “learning to know” (*) 

Community Based Organizations (CBO’s) workforce development programs are designed to accommodate the different situations and experiences of the population they serve, with a mission that is directly informed by the needs and challenges of that population. Many nonprofits utilize a variety of approaches, including educational and professional advancement. These organizations meet individuals where they are and work with them to become all-around better versions of themselves. 

The Corps Network is a prime example of an organization that is working hard to bridge the gap of education and the workforce by offering a full array of services and support to assist disconnected youth in their transition to education, career, and adulthood. By offering both educational and workforce programs, to include trade skills, they provide youth with the option to fully prepare themselves for the workforce by way of finished education, learned applicable skills and gaining employment. One of the programs The Corps Network uses to bridge this gap is the WorkSource One-Stop program, in which youth living in rural areas are co-enrolled in both HOC (Heart of Oregon Corps) and the One-Stop program. These youth receive workforce and educational services through One-Stop, such as GED services, job skills assessments and referrals all the while HOC provides them with essential skills training, work experience and often complimentary career development services, work-based learning opportunities and postsecondary bridging support.  

With the ever-present need to adjust programming and youth development to align with the workforce, youth services can bridge the divide between young people and employers and uniquely adjust the population they serve to qualify for jobs.  Programs already aligning themselves with the needs of employers create an advantage for their youth amongst other job candidates. It’s out with the old and in with the new if youth-serving programs want to create actionable changes to their programming and set an example for the educational systems to follow suit. Moving forward these nonprofit and CBOs should look to the best-practices led by those like The Corps Newtwork and WorkSource One-Stop program to serve as the blueprint for preparing youth for the workforce. Further, these organizations should build upon existing relationships with employers to implement the skills and knowledge these employers most look for in a candidate. Uplifting the next generation of workers is a coordinated effort to continually adjust to the needs of the workforce itself.  



Evaluating the Effectiveness of Employer Engagement: Summary Report

The Future of Work Capsules: Addressing the disconnect between the world of education and work

The U.S. Education System Isn’t Giving Students What Employers Need (