March 5, 2013Op-ed

Politico: Enterprising Paths for a New Economy

by John Bridgeland and Melody C. Barnes

Federal/ Workforce Training/ 2013/

When it comes to preparing the next generation for good careers, schools and communities across the country are leading the way. Our nation faces a jobs crisis, talent gap and dropout epidemic — big challenges, compounded by the pressure of hard fiscal times. These problems are not insurmountable but necessitate public policies with far more problem-solving punch than those being deployed today. A re-envisioned career and technical education system — or “enterprising pathways” — is one example that would connect high school to post-secondary education and eventually to a career, creating opportunities for all students.

A generation ago, most jobs required a high school diploma or less. By the end of this decade, two-thirds of America’s jobs will require some post-secondary training. Today’s education system is not keeping up with the demands of tomorrow’s workforce — only 78 percent of our students graduate from high school on time and fewer than 40 percent of 25-to-34-year-olds have some post-secondary degree. We’re already seeing the effects of the emerging gap — many states with high unemployment also report thousands of available jobs.

Higher education must be an accessible and affordable option for all, but four-year degrees cannot be the only pathway that leads to middle-class careers and family-sustaining wages. There are currently 29 million jobs in the United States — nearly half of all jobs that pay middle-class wages — that require more than a high school diploma but less than a bachelor’s degree. Our economy depends on the strength of our workforce and that means we need better training to meet the demand for registered nurses, lab technicians, middle managers and electricians.