Penn Education Researcher Explains How to Prepare Today’s Students for Tomorrow’s Jobs

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Media Contact:Jill DiSanto | | 215-898-4820November 26, 2012

What’s needed to ensure a solid future for the American worker? 

According to one University of Pennsylvania researcher, it’s a matter of education and training.  While not everyone is destined to attend college, it’s up to policymakers, employers and educators to team up to make sure that today’s students are prepared to meet the needs of tomorrow’s employers.

Edited by Laura W. Perna, a professor at Penn’s Graduate School of Education, “Preparing Today’s Students for Tomorrow’s Jobs in Metropolitan America” describes the gaps that exist between what skills students and workers are learning and the needs of their employers. 

By 2018, 63 percent of all jobs will require at least some post-secondary education or training, but to a large number of the economically and academically disadvantaged population, higher education can seem irrelevant and unattainable. 

With particular attention to workers and employers in urban areas, the book examines the roles that different educational sectors and providers can play in workforce readiness and provides recommendations for institutional leaders, policymakers and researchers.  

“Preparing Today’s Students for Tomorrow’s Jobs” also analyzes the practices and public policies that promote the educational preparation of today’s students, shedding light on recurring questions:  What is the “right” amount of education?  What should be the relative emphasis on “general” versus “specific” or “occupational” education and training?

It offers recommendations for institutional leaders and educational policy makers interested in improving workforce readiness of workers and consequently improving the nation’s economic competitiveness.

Recommendations include accepting and understanding that not everyone will earn a college degree; providing a range of high-quality alternative educational opportunities; enabling students to make informed choices about the most appropriate education and career pathways that best suit their goals and interests; and recognizing that both generic and specific skills are valuable and required for tomorrow’s jobs in metropolitan America.

“Much recent attention has focused on the need to improve high school and college degree completion.  But, relatively less attention has focused on whether graduates and degree recipients have the skills and knowledge required by employers –- especially employers in our nation’s metropolitan areas,” Perna says.  “The book comes after a two-day conference in May 2011, which was designed to improve our understanding of these issues by hearing the insights of federal, state and local policy leaders, college administrators and researchers.”

Co-hosted with Penn’s Institute for Urban Research, the conference convened leaders from the U.S. Department of Education, the Committee for Economic Development in Washington, D.C., and the Mayo Clinic, along with representatives from several colleges and universities.

Panelists discussed the most effective institutional and public-policy strategies to be sure students have the knowledge and skills required for future employment.