Recommendations > Recommendation Detail

The Challenge: American Education and Professional Training Today Are Not Where We Need to be to Thrive in an Increasingly Competitive Global Arena

As the skills required by our workforce grow in complexity, America is losing its position of global educational leadership in ways that could put our future living standards and business competitiveness at risk.

  • There are 3.3 million job openings in the U.S., many going unfilled for months on end, as roughly half of employers now say they’re having a hard time finding qualified workers to hire, especially in technical fields.
  • The gap between employer needs and workforce skills is starkest in the critical areas of STEM education, as technical skills become increasingly important in the workforce. Yet while demand is growing rapidly, the U.S. is on track to respond with only modest increases in the number of graduates in STEM related fields.
  • Only 1.5% of 25-34 year-olds in the workplace gained a higher education degree in a science related field, putting the U.S. in the bottom third of all OECD countries.
  • Projections indicate that by 2020 we will have 1.5 million too few college graduates as compared with employer demand.
  • Only one-quarter of America’s 52 million K-12 students are performing on par with the average student in Singapore, Hong Kong, Finland, Taiwan, or South Korea, while 25% of our high school students fail to graduate.
  • A 2009 study by the McKinsey Institute found that the cost of America’s K-12 achievement gap compared to the world’s top performing countries reached as high as $2.3 trillion in 2008 alone.

Jobs Council Recommendation: Realign Higher Education and  Training to Better Meet Workforce and Student Needs

The lack of alignment between what employers need and what skills are taught and delivered has become a critical problem for U.S. competitiveness. The following measures will create a purposeful educational system that produces work-ready graduates, satisfied employers with access to a talented labor pool, and a vibrant economy poised for growth and success.

Form Partnerships Between Businesses and Educational Institutions to Ensure that Training for Students and Workers Meets the Demands of the Labor Market. The Jobs Council urges partnerships between businesses and educational institutions to design and implement curricula and assessments that better prepare students for real world employment.  Business associations should also partner with post-secondary institutions to develop meaningful learning standards, so that students earn credentials based on their competence, not credit hours.

Develop Data-Driven Transparency Mechanisms to Align Labor Supply with Demand. The Jobs Council urges the business community to take the lead on making data on the supply and demand of workforce skills readily available. The Department of Labor’s O*NET database is a promising step in this direction, and the Council calls on state governments and the DOL to collaborate with the private sector to extend these databases to the regional level, so that employers, educators, workers, and students the tools to efficiently match education and training with employer needs.

Jobs Council Recommendation: Transform the American Education System from Preschool to K-12

Ensuring that more students graduate high school better prepared for either the workforce or post-secondary education is critical for economic success and the growth of individual businesses.  To accomplish this, the Jobs Council believes that the U.S. PreK-12 educational system must be adequately resourced, transparently accountable for performance, and more clearly linked to the skills needed in our economy—particularly in the critical areas of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) education.

Emphasize the Importance of Preschool to Educational Success. High quality preschool programs are a key element to ensuring future educational success. The Jobs Council recommends focusing efforts on high quality preschool access, continuing efforts to ensure preschool programs are coordinated and held to higher quality standards, and working to develop common high standards for preschool.

Accelerate the Implementation of High Common Standards. The Jobs Council recommends speeding the rollout of high, common, and internationally-benchmarked standards for what children should learn to keep pace with most of our major industrial competitors who already have comprehensive, consistent standards in education.

Bolster the Teaching Profession. The Council suggests that the National Governor’s Association, with support from the Department of Education, spearhead a state-local-national taskforce to develop a roadmap that describes best practices, metrics, and timelines for states to use in improving the recruiting, preparation, retention, and rewarding of teachers, informed by global best practice. Ensuring high teacher effectiveness, particularly in STEM subjects, is the surest way to produce graduates with the skills to compete.

Empower Students, Parents and Teachers to Make Data-Driven Improvements to Education. The Jobs Council calls on state governments to make transparent data readily available regarding school and system performance at all levels, which will enable parents, students and businesses to be better consumers of education and catalysts for change.