Teaching Students How to Learn: Reversing the Career Readiness Crisis

Whether the concern is coming from business executives, politicians, or small business owners, there is growing evidence that young people are not prepared for careers in today's economy. Given the need for high skilled workers, industries are increasingly taking steps to reverse what has been termed the "career readiness crisis." Just this past month, JPMorgan Chase announced the launch of its New Skills for Youth Initiative which intends to invest $75 million over the next five years to improve career readiness for young people. They will award grants to 20-25 states for planning and implementation of long-term career readiness programs that "align with the needs of area employers."

We applaud these efforts because we believe when companies get involved in education through their corporate social responsibility efforts, real positive change can result from these partnerships. However, we also believe that we don’t have to wait on such formal programs to be developed by states. This crisis is no longer just about the technical, job-related skills gap. It involves gaps in important soft skills like problem solving, adaptability, and critical thinking. So, how can we prepare students for today's workplace? How can we teach students to learn on the job, manage their performance, and grow within a company? The answer is teaching young people how to learn.

The Skills Students Will Need

While college and career readiness programs in schools will certainly address the technical skills gap, a recent study by The Economist surveyed 343 executives and found that soft skills such as critical thinking and problem solving, collaboration, communication, adaptability and multitasking are a top priority for employers. In addition, given the increasing demand for skilled workers, students will need to be able to learn and adapt to evolving processes and technologies as adults. Traits that support lifelong learning like motivation and persistence are increasingly important in today’s economy.

Educators and schools can have the greatest impact in this area when they take a holistic approach to education, supporting the healthy physical, emotional, and psychological development of children. For some students, this learning takes place outside of school, either in out-of-school programs or community centers that have been long-time partners in this work. This preparation, however, can also take place in classrooms. To help students become effective lifelong learners, teachers and schools should continue to emphasize academic skills while also integrating a focus on social emotional learning, metacognition, and academic tenacity (perseverance, resilience, and grit) in the classroom.

In a time of growing concerns over standards, we cannot focus solely on “what” students are learning. We must also think about "how" students are learning to prepare for life after high school. When teachers focus on the learning process, they help students develop soft skills and metacognitive abilities. Teaching young people how to learn is key for future success in college and life.

In our next blog, we will dive deeper and discuss why learning in each of these areas is key for college and career readiness. Are the youngest members of your organization “career ready”? Do you have an opinion on career readiness? Join the conversation by tweeting @carrotnewyork.