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To find career success, students need more real-world skills

Real World Learning Clouds

That said, recent surveys show there’s still debate about which skills students should learn and the value of a college degree.

There’s a profound shift happening in attitudes about what life and work skills high school and college should offer students, according to recent national surveys conducted on behalf of the Kauffman Foundation.

About the surveys

The online surveys, conducted by Global Strategy Group, reached three different groups: 2000 adults nationwide, including 680 parents; 750 high school students nationwide; and 523 employers responsible for hiring, also nationwide. The surveyors took care to ensure a wide range of demographics were represented among the respondents. Of the adults, 800 adults, including 200 parents, were from Missouri and Kansas.

If gainful employment is considered one of the primary goals of education, employers are increasingly looking at credentials other than degrees when making hiring decisions, whereas most adults and parents still believe a college degree is the best predictor of success in life.

But both employers and parents believe that a happy medium would be possible if high schools and colleges offered students more opportunities to gain real world skills and experiences. Where high schools are still locked in to preparing students for standardized tests, all parties surveyed also agree that students would benefit more from learning “essential” skills like communication, problem-solving and financial literacy, as well has having internships and projects with employers.

The role of high school

Students, adults, and employers all agree – high school could better prepare students with skills they need for the real world – both life skills and the soft and technical skills that are helpful in the workplace.

What parents think

In general, parents feel both high school and college could have prepared them better for life, and for work. On the home front, adults would have liked to have learned more in high school about topics such as personal finance, budgeting, and taxes, and parents also think their children would benefit from practical skills.

What employers think

There’s a notable difference in what skills employers are looking for, compared to adults in general. 77% of employers believe high school preparation should focus on real world skills, rather than traditional subject matters.

What students think

Most students think high school has prepared them well to succeed in college.

But, many fewer feel ready to join the workforce after high school, including only 23% of non-college bound students feeling very well prepared.

Test taking

Across the board, adults, parents, students, and employers all deem test-taking as one of the least important skills needed as preparation for the workforce.

The changing value of credentials

Even though gaps remain, adults see colleges as doing a better job than high school at preparing students with the skills they will need in the workforce. That said, fewer than half of adults feel colleges produce graduates with emotional skills they might need.

College’s role

Despite some shifts in the market, a college degree is seen as a predictor of work readiness by most adults.

But, increasingly, employers say they would hire more high school graduates, if they had the kind of real world experience that would better prepare them for work.

In fact, employers indicate that candidates’ previous internship and technical certifications are very or somewhat influential in hiring decisions. And, almost half of employers say they are moving away from a four-year degree as a criteria for hiring, compared to looking at candidates’ experience.