Our colleges, job markets and communities rely on high schools to prepare students for higher education, careers and citizenship. The traditional high school curriculum aims to develop a well-rounded student, but oftentimes, this standard educational approach lacks job-specific training. Many young people move through high school without acquiring the necessary skill sets that prepare them for employment. High schools should consider equipping young people with the skills and job-specific knowledge to be career-ready.

Effects on Employers

Employers are calling for improved workforce preparedness within our education systems because of high demands in the labor market and talent shortages. Even on a global scale, the lack of available skilled talent affects employers and impacts business performance, according to the 2012 Talent Shortage Survey by ManpowerGroup. (1) The survey, based on research of 38,000 employers in 41 countries and territories, found that 34 percent of employers have a difficult time finding qualified people to fill job vacancies. The issue over talent supply and demand specifically applies to skilled trade workers, engineers, sales representatives, technicians and IT staff. Declining vocational and technical programs, as well as eroding curricula and enrollment rates, have affected this skills gap.

ManpowerGroup's research identifies a shortage of available applicants in local labor markets as the number one reason why employers can't fill jobs. The U.S. outpaces other countries by 55 percent in facing a deficit in quality candidates. The second reason for why employers can't fill jobs is a lack of hard skills, including technical competencies, foreign language proficiencies, IT capabilities and machine-operable skills. A lack of experience and employability skills (known as soft skills) also affect unfilled job vacancies.

Workforce Preparedness

Bentley University echoes the concern over skills shortages and graduates struggling to find a job. (2) Bentley University conducted the Bentley University Preparedness Study, which is based off comprehensive surveys of more than 3,100 people affected by the "preparedness gap," including higher ed and business leaders, corporate recruiters, high school and college students, their families, recent college grads and the public. Based on the research, the study defines "preparedness" as education (24 percent), skills (23 percent), personal traits (17 percent) and experience (16 percent).

Sixty-two percent of respondents see the level of preparedness of recent college graduates for their first job as problematic. Seventy-four percent believe a lack of preparedness impacts our nation's economic problems, and 64 percent of business leaders agree the lack of preparation new hires have negatively affects day-to-day productivity. In response to solutions for improving workforce preparedness, the study found that respondents agreed with the following:

  • Students need to commit to lifelong learning
  • Learning must blend academics and hands-on learning
  • Colleges should equip their campus with cutting-edge technologies
  • Internships should be mandatory so students gain real-world experience

We take these proposed solutions further by advocating a commitment to lifelong learning starting at the high school level. Foster a blended, hands-on and technologically oriented learning environment early on. Develop programs that mimic internships to provide students with on-the-job learning experiences that better prepare them for college.

The following deconstructs how skills training in the high school classroom can improve the education and preparedness of students for their futures. Then once these knowledgeable and skilled students graduate, they can enter the workforce as qualified and adequately prepared job candidates equipped to fill employment voids.

Work Skills & Requirements

The National Collaborative on Workforce and Disability for Youth refers to the hard and soft skills that employers look for and that help workers succeed in the workplace and beyond as "work skills." Hard skills are the foundational, technical or tangible skills necessary for performing a job. Soft skills focus on interpersonal communication, including teamwork, cooperation, accountability, conflict resolution and evaluation.

A white paper by the International Data Corporation (IDC), "Skills Requirements for Tomorrow's Best Jobs Helping Educators Provide Students with Skills and Tools They Need," examined 14.6 million jobs from April to September 2013. (4) This IDC research forecast the most in-demand skills in 2020, and soft skills will particularly be in demand by high-growth, high-wage jobs. IDC stresses that an educational system supporting skill development also supports the future successes of students and the civic economy. IDC analysis narrowed down more than 12,000 job-specific skills to identify the most common skills; the top 10 required and most common skills include:

  • Good oral and written communication skills
  • Detail-oriented
  • Proficient in Microsoft Office
  • Customer service-oriented
  • Good organizational skills
  • Ability to problem-solve
  • Knowledgeable in sales and operations planning
  • Bilingual/multilingual
  • Self-starting/motivated
  • Ability to work independently

IDC adds that these top skills are "cross-functional" and required by half or more of the high-growing, high-wage positions. These positions require 37 cross-functional skills, and cross-functional skills make up 46.6 percent of skill requirements. With such a strong emphasis on these cross-functional skills, it is critical that high school educators equip students with them.

Hands-On Learning for Career Exploration

High school educators should also prepare students for job readiness by offering hands-on learning opportunities, similar to a college internship. Hands-on, career-oriented curricula equips students with work skills and also encourages them to explore potential careers. A field-related educational experience creates an opportunity early on for students to learn about the working world. Students can make a connection between school and an interesting occupation, stay motivated to graduate and gain the skills for their future career.

Career exploration matters, emphasizes America's Promise Alliance. (5) Students involved in career exploration can engage in the high school courses and adopt relevant skill sets. Students who participate in career exploration programs-as early as middle school, even-are more likely to take higher-level math classes in high school and have higher self-esteem, America's Promise Alliance found.

Implement jobs-skills training and career readiness into your high school curricula. Equip students with the necessary skills to advance toward their dreams and supply a well-educated, highly skilled workforce for in-need job markets.


(1) https://go.manpowergroup.com/talent-shortage#thereport (2) https://www.bentley.edu/ (3) http://www.ncwd-youth.info/publications/helping-youth-build-work-skills-for-job-success-tips-for-parents-and-families/ (4)https://news.microsoft.com/download/presskits/education/docs/IDC_101513.pdf (5) http://www.americaspromise.org/why-career-exploration-matters