Tapping into Talent: Improving the Transition from School to Work

On February 26th, the U.S Chamber of Commerce Foundation and Young Invincibles hosted “Tapping into Talent: Improving the Transition from School to Work.”  As recent college graduates frequently struggle with finding a job and systematic improvements are needed to facilitate this transition, members of the business community, current students, recent graduates, education professionals and others convened to discuss ways to better connect students, recent graduates, and employers to bridge the gap between postsecondary education and sustainable employment.

The keynote speaker, Dr. Robert G. Templin, President of Northern Virginia Community College, spoke extensively on current efforts to improve the process of transitioning students from postsecondary education to employment. He described the misalignment between our economy and our educational trajectory. The United States is under-producing STEM-ready postsecondary graduates and the most vulnerable and fastest growing group living in poverty, Latinos and African Americans, are especially struggling to transition from school to the workforce. Templin highlighted the need to tackle the growing demand for STEM-ready graduates, expand education and employment opportunities for the most underserviced sectors of society, and improve the transition from postsecondary education to employment for all students. A team effort involving secondary schools, universities, communities, and the economic sector is necessary to address these transition issues. Most notably, a system of applied workplace opportunities that can be taken to scale must be developed in order to provide current students and recent graduates with skills to assist in the transition from school to work. Current promising practices include integrated classroom learning, paid internships, and apprenticeships that combine class work with career development. While these practices are functioning well at the small scale, comprehensive large-scale programs to help students transition into the workplace are still in high demand.

Aaron Smith, Co-Founder of Young Invincibles, moderated a discussion on the topic of breaking barriers from school to work. The panelists included Angela Cobb, Director of Frequency540 and New Options Project; Andrew Faria, Founder and CEO of iMedia Solutions; Tiffany Westover-Kernan, Founder of TWK Consulting; and Liz Simon, Associate General Counsel at General Assembly. The panelists addressed several subjects important to transitioning students into employment:

Employer Buy-in.  Employers are critical stakeholders in assisting organizations that cater to developing student skills outside the classroom. Employers have the opportunity to make clear what skills they are looking for and can help in the development of curriculum and programs that assist youth in the transition from school to the workplace. Businesses must focus more on developing talent as opposed to just seeking out talent.

Innovative Accreditation. Traditional notions of accreditation for students are not fully preparing students for the workforce and yet there is a lack of perceived value in non-college work. Young adults are frequently frustrated with an inability to gain experience outside the classroom and are often stuck in unpaid internships. Allowing non-traditional credential programs to become official forms of postsecondary accreditation can provide students with essential work experience while receiving official recognition of their achievements.

Taking Programs to Scale. There are several successful programs that are collaborating with businesses at a local level, but may not be taken to scale at the national level. Systems for providing current students and recent graduates with workplace skills must be built to promote collaboration between multiple organizations and businesses.   

Joel Gurin, author of Open Data Now and Senior Adviser at The Governance Lab, moderated a discussion on Data-Driven Decision Making. Panelists included Brandon Carroll, Vice President of Koofers Campus Recruiter; Devon Graves, Chair of the California State Students Association; and Miguel Gonzalez, Director of Human Resources for Government Operations at Boeing. The panelists discussed in detail how data is used in each of their respective fields to make decisions and connect students and other potential employees with various employment opportunities. Gonzalez indicated that data is used in his field to identify where talent comes from, current strengths of the workforce, and areas for more growth and development. Specifically, data is used to identify any skill gaps among employees. All three panelists agreed that investing in education and better educational pathways to careers is important for economic growth. Use of technology and data enhances the ability of students and employers to connect better and more often. Access to more comprehensive data allows students to develop better understandings of career opportunities, in order to avoid being limited to a narrow number of jobs. From the employer perspective, better data also allows hiring managers to expand their recruitment strategies beyond career fairs and other more traditional channels.

Katie Porter is a policy/research intern at the American Youth Policy Forum.

Carousel image by: Southern Arkansas University on Flickr


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