Originally published on Real Clear Education - June 4, 2021
Amid the ongoing trade war between China and the United States, lawmakers are moving to pass a comprehensive new bill to boost economic competition, minimize reliance on China, and promote investment in the American workforce. With our economy beginning to recover, we need to focus on preparing young people to fill vital roles in the years ahead and decrease our reliance on tech and talent from abroad.
China has the world’s second-largest economy and a faster-growing and more lucrative tech industry that “is poised to come out ahead” of the U.S., according to an analysis by The Wall Street Journal last year. It’s winning the 5G race, contributes more to AI research, and because its population is so large, it has more data to feed to machine-learning and transportation technologies like self-driving vehicles.
If the U.S. wants to prevail in the tech race, we have to start with education. The pandemic has provided motivation for the U.S. to seek greater economic independence and bring jobs back to our shores. Career-oriented learning solutions can help fill these specialized jobs.
America’s educational model is outdated and expensive. Students are expected to go from high school immediately into four-year colleges, where they don’t have to declare a major until sophomore or junior year. When they graduate (often with massive debt), many have little idea what careers they want to pursue or how they will pay back their loans. We need to expose students to career paths during their high school years, especially because many high-paying tech jobs today don’t require four-year college degrees.
Career learning prepares students to go beyond jobs traditionally aligned with vocational education to emerging jobs in areas like information technology, cybersecurity, and digital design. While earning their high school diplomas, students learn directly from industry experts, gain work experience, and prepare for industry-recognized certification exams in high-demand fields.
One such student, Samuel Shin, works five hours a day as a freelance animator while getting his high school education online. He’s hoping to get an internship with an animation studio and eventually work for Pixar after he graduates. Another high school student, seventeen-year-old Devon Casper, has been taking classes in programming and IT. Devon, who has autism, plans to become a mechanic or a computer repair technician after getting his diploma.
Students who don’t know what they want to do can use career-readiness programs to explore different occupations and career fields. For students like Sam and Devon, who already know what they want to do after high school, taking such courses can provide a head start. Career training also helps students master professional skills like project management and leadership, which are needed both on the job and in college.
Parents overwhelmingly support career-readiness education. A recent Stride survey found that 82% of parents said that they would be more likely to choose a high school for their child that offers career education. And career-readiness education is one of the areas of bipartisan agreement in a time of political polarization: the overwhelming majority of Republicans (80%) and Democrats (83%) agree that the U.S. should invest in CRE.
As America emerges from a public health and economic crisis, we need a new approach to education. By bolstering its career education programs, the U.S. can reclaim its place as the world leader in the tech industry.
Dr. Shaun McAlmont is president of Career Learning Solutions for Stride, Inc.