HR Pros To High Schools: It’s Time To Create A Talent Pipeline

Originally published in Forbes - April 15, 2020

A new survey of HR pros by K12 Inc.’s Destinations Career Academy shows how the skills gap in the U.S. is hurting American businesses and how career-readiness education can help.

Among the survey’s key findings: a staggering 94% of HR decision makers say that an inability to find highly qualified candidates is impacting their company’s business growth—this despite their willingness to “hemorrhage money” in pursuit of recruiting and training the right talent.

What’s more, at least one third of respondents report that their current spending isn’t enough, and 68% predict that, despite any spending, a scarcity of qualified IT talent in the next five to 10 years will negatively impact their business.

Virtually across the board, survey respondents believe that the responsibility for preparing high school students for a career belongs to both business leaders and educators. Ninety-six percent say that companies should be offering more apprenticeships and internships, and two out of three want high schools to start doing more to prepare students for a career after graduation.

Moreover, an about-face is appearing in another area: the need—or lack thereof—for a college degree.

A seismic shift

As employers come to grips with their talent woes, they’re also making considerable concessions around college degrees. Case in point: According to the K12 survey, when it comes to screening job candidates, merely 15% of HR pros rank a two- or four-year degree as the first thing they look for—a seismic shift by any measure. As a result, companies are creating strategic training and learning initiatives to help upskill new and existing employees, especially in the areas most essential to business growth.

“Inadequate skills training is looming over the American economy,” warns Dr. Shaun McAlmont, president of K12’s Career Learning Solutions. “Yet as technology and the modern workplace continue to evolve, we’re also upending the age-old idea that a college degree is the only way to achieve a successful career.”  

Then there’s the issue of student loan debt. At one time, it was largely just an employee problem. But not anymore.

Eighty-four percent of survey respondents report that college debt is impacting their organization. For instance, more than 40% say that financial issues are driving employees to demand higher-than-average salaries (35%), request a raise to offset expenses (34%) or secure a side hustle (29%).

“It’s up to educators to prioritize career readiness and help high schoolers avoid or alleviate college debt,” argues McAlmont. And employers? “They have to make their workplace accessible to students sooner.”

Soft skills, too

The K12 survey also reveals that many of today’s job candidates lack critical soft skills such as work ethic, communication and teamwork. On the bright side, however, McAlmont reports that high schoolers are increasingly benefitting in this regard from project-based learning, not just in the classroom, but also on the job in a modern work environment.

“Students are learning about critical thinking, working within and across teams, managing competing priorities, and being accountable for deliverables—all in a very real, hands-on way,” explains McAlmont. “Those baseline skills will help them immensely as they apply and interview for jobs down the road.”

Still, there are some hurdles to clear with regard to having high schoolers in the workplace. “Unfortunately, there’s a certain stigma as to them running around an office,” laments McAlmont. “But employers will have to get over that.” And if they don’t? “Eventually, they’ll be looking at acute talent deficits, especially in high-demand areas like software engineering, healthcare, and advanced manufacturing.”

Besides, dealing with the logistics of bringing underage students into a workplace is doable. One example, cites McAlmont, is Adecco Staffing, which operates as the employer of record for high school students from Ohio’s Destinations Career Academy. In managing much of the administrative and legal burdens, Adecco frees up employers and educators to focus on creating high-quality, win-win programs like internships and apprenticeships.

So, America, let’s sound the alarm. It’s time for business leaders and educators to link arms and help create highly skilled, career-ready employees for the U.S. workforce. Together, they can—and will—create a talent pipeline for the ages. And that’s a win for everyone.

To learn more about Destinations Career Academy, visit https://www.destinationsacademy.com/

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