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Preparing America’s Future Workforce

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July 19th, 2011
By Brian K. Fitzgerald, Chief Executive Officer, BHEF

Today, I attended The Atlantic’s The New Work Era Summit—a convening of corporate, government, and nonprofit leaders from across the country focused on how best to prepare Americans for the future workforce.

More than ever, the nation needs college-educated graduates to fill our high-demand jobs, yet projections show we are facing shortages in many high-demand fields. These shortages are particularly acute in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) disciplines where, even now, there are significantly more job openings than applicants qualified for these positions. If the nation continues on this trajectory, there will not be enough workers to fill the projected 17 percent increase in STEM jobs over the next decade.

BHEF is using ACT data to further investigate the gaps in the education-workforce talent supply chain. Research has shown that students who graduate high school proficient in math are generally ready to pursue STEM majors in college. Yet, according to our analysis, only 16 percent of 12th grade students are both proficient in math and interested in STEM disciplines. This percentage shrinks significantly for some minority groups that make up the fastest growing segments of the U.S. population. For example, only 12 percent of Latino/Hispanic 12th grade students are math proficient and STEM interested; 5.7 percent of African Americans.

So, how do we better prepare a more diverse future workforce? Unfortunately, there are no silver bullets. The education-workforce misalignment is the result of systemic leaks in the education production and career pipeline. Plugging these leaks will require a blend of targeted and comprehensive strategies. However, BHEF’s analysis shows that there are particular areas of focus that could offer high payoffs. For example, significant proportions of students could enter STEM programs and careers if 12th grade math proficiency were improved though accelerated math learning using intelligent tutors, thereby reducing the need for remediation in college.

The conversations at The New Work Era Summit come at a critical time to our national economy. As we encourage baccalaureate degree attainment, it is not enough if we fail to prepare students with skills necessary to support future workforce trends and connect students with high-paying jobs.


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