The Gap Between Educational and Career Goals

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It's one thing to get an education, it's quite another to be prepared to obtain employment upon graduation. Students need to know what skills employers want.

Are Schools Teaching Students the Skills Employers Want?

Linking educational and career goals is not a new concept. Studies have been conducted and concerns have been raised for years. Individual schools systems have struggled with their efforts to try and eliminate the gap between education and career goals.

In 2002, the Chicago Public School (CPS) system realized that though tests results were improving, graduates were struggling to find and keep employment. Their conclusion was that educators might be adept at teaching “basic skills and core academic subjects,” but they were less comfortable teaching soft skills.

In 2007 a nationwide poll conducted by Public Opinion Strategies and Peter D. Hart Research Associations for Partnership for 21st Century Skills found that 80 percent of voters felt that the skills students need to learn to prepare them for employment today has changed from 20 years ago. Unfortunately, a large portion of this same group said that schools aren’t keeping up with those changing needs.

What 88 percent of the voters indicated was that they felt critical thinking, problem-solving, communication, self direction and computer skills were some of the skills that should be incorporated into school curriculums. What is interesting is that these findings were not much different than the ones discovered in the 2006 “Are They Really Ready to Work?” survey where employers said that the future U.S. workforce is “woefully ill-prepared for the demands of today’s (and tomorrow’s) workforce.”

The Gap Between the School Room and the Board Room

In a January 23, 2009 press release titled "Learning Environments Must Break Through the Silos that Separate Learning from the Real World", The Partnership for 21st Century Skills ( indicated that to have a successful learning environment schools must break through the barriers that separate them from real world experiences – “Industrial Age” practices such as “rigid schedules, inflexible facilities and fixed boundaries between grades, disciplines and classrooms.”

By combining traditional learning and 21st century tools, experts feel that the education system, and therefore the graduating students, will be more aligned with contemporary workforce needs. Partnership President Ken Kay said “Integrating 21st century skills into the teaching of core academic subjects is a win-win proposition for everyone involved.”


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Ten Most Important Skills to Shrink the Gap

While there is no debate as to whether or not it makes sense to link education and career goals, defining what soft skills students need most to help them be successful in the work environment might not be as easily defined.

However, Bill Coplin, Ph.D., Director Public Affairs Program, Maxwell School, Syracuse University, suggests learning these ten skill sets based on 10 Things Employers Want You Learn in College [10 Speed Press, 2003).

  • Establishing a Work Ethic
  • Developing Physical Skills
  • Communicating Verbally
  • Communicating in Writing
  • Working Directly with People
  • Influencing People
  • Gathering Information
  • Using Quantitative Tools
  • Asking and Answering the Right Questions
  • Solving Problems

Dr. Coplin suggests teaching students very specific skills and abilities under these ten headings. These skills include developing physical skills like learning to type at least 35 words per minute as well as being able to speak in public and learning to sell, lead and conduct research.

The idea is that along with gaining a basic knowledge through their school studies, students need to develop the skills that will enable them to become employable adults. And that is the only way to bridge the gap between educational and career goals.


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