An article published in The New York Times, republished in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, talked about the rising graduation rate of high school students. The Department of Education announced that the graduation rate for the 2013-14 school year was above 82%, the highest ever recorded. The Obama administration hailed this and said that is expanding the opportunities for students to succeed. Great news for employers! Or is it?
Unfortunately in reviewing the facts behind the figures a number of questions have been raised. Educators, business people and parents wonder if high school graduates are really prepared to enter college or even the workplace. One school, Berea High, in Greenville, S.C, increased its graduation rate in four years from 65% to 80%, yet in tests administered to 11th graders only 1 in 10 students were ready for college level reading and only 1 in 14 was ready for college level math. According to the article “… on a separate test of skills needed to succeed in most jobs, little more than half of the students demonstrated that they could handle the math they would need.” So from an employer’s standpoint the potential labor pool is severely handicapped.
Not a just a “Southern” issue
Lest you think that the report numbers are a result of that fact that this high school is in South Carolina the article states:
It is a pattern repeated in other school districts across the state and country — urban, suburban and rural — where the number of students earning high school diplomas has risen to historic peaks, yet measures of academic readiness for college or jobs are much lower. This has led educators to question the real value of a high school diploma and whether graduation requirements are too easy.
There is no single educational standard, in fact there is no single graduation standard. South Carolina has a stricter graduation requirement than does California, Alaska, Wisconsin and Wyoming.
Are we steering students wrong?
Some people think we are steering students in the wrong direction in some cases. Alan Weiss, one of my favorite deep thinkers, says “I don’t think a four-year degree (or the five and six years some students crawl through) will be de rigueur in the years ahead. I don’t think college should the default destination for high school graduates. We need tradespeople and craftspeople. We need people in transportation and public safety. Do they all require four-year degrees? Can’t two-year programs or even licensing or certification courses fill the bill?” Many futurists, such as James Canton, think four year colleges may diminish significantly in the future.
Are you paying attention?
My concern, and the reason I wrote this post, is that many businesses rely on the graduated high school student as a source of labor. These numbers indicate that a large number of these students will not be prepared to take on most jobs in today’s business. The problem gets even worse when we then look at students in college. Yet I fear that most businesses in their planning are not looking at, or accounting for, the lack of skills that incoming labor pools are exhibiting. If you are not planning for it you will be caught unprepared.
If you do recognize the problem what are you doing about it? Do you have a contingency plan in place? Will you automate? Will you remediate? Neither is necessarily the correct answer. Too much depends on your company and your readiness. My point is that you need to be thinking about it today and making plans for tomorrow before it is too late.