Chauncy Lennon

By Chauncy Lennon, Head of Workforce Initiatives and
Chris Minnich, Executive Director of the CCSSO

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A Modern Workforce Is Key to America's Economic Future

Much was said during the Presidential campaign about creating economic opportunity for those who feel left behind. Now, we must figure out how to achieve this. It begins by giving young people the skills they need to succeed and modernizing our nation’s education system to meet the needs of every child so they can pursue a career after high school.

Simply graduating from high school used to lead to a good paying job, but that’s no longer the case. Forty years ago, nearly 75 percent of jobs were for people with a high school degree or less. Flash forward, that number has dropped to below 40 percent today while wages for these jobs have declined by 15 percent.

While it’s clear our economy changed since the 1970s, our education system has not always kept up. Young people who head straight into the workforce after high school are often not adequately prepared with the right skills that employers need.

Students are often leaving high school without the education or specialized training for the all the different types of jobs that are a growing part of the American labor market. These are jobs that pay good wages and lead to careers in high growth industries, such as health care, advanced manufacturing and IT. The ticket to entry for these jobs is a high school degree and some type of post-secondary degree or credential which they can earn while in high school or after graduating. Across the country, employers are struggling to fill positions for machinists, radiology technicians and software developers. This is a challenge that is not just problematic for the long-term prospects of young people; it is weakening productivity and our long-term economic prospects.

Even as unemployment falls, the US economy will create more than 16 million good-paying jobs through 2024 for people who don’t have a bachelor’s degree. But employers can’t find enough people with the skills to fill them.

Part of the solution is to invest in education pathways that adequately prepare students with the technical skills they need to go on to pursue a career. Students can graduate into post-secondary programs that provide them with in demand labor market credentials for many advanced-skill, well-paying careers.

For example, the healthcare profession is in dire need of skilled workers. With over 44 million Baby Boomers likely in need of greater medical attention over the next decade, the healthcare workforce is not big or skilled enough to meet the demand. For example, we will need to train an additional 28,000 phlebotomists by 2024. These health care support workers who draw blood from patients have a bright future in the industry. They earn a median annual wage of over $31,000 and gain access to pathways to other jobs in hospitals, laboratories and healthcare organizations.

Ultimately, we must invest more in career preparedness programs.

This is not a responsibility that is placed solely on the shoulders of the President, Congress or state leaders. It is the responsibility of all of us – businesses, educators, labor leaders and elected officials. This week, JPMorgan Chase and CCSSO invested $20 million in ten state programs to dramatically increase the number of students who graduate from high school prepared for the workforce. Developed as part of JPMorgan Chase’s $75 million global New Skills for Youth initiative, each awarded state will work with government, business and education leaders to strengthen career education and create pathways to economic success for all students.

This investment is critical because states and local school districts have typically lacked the resources to innovate and strengthen their career education programs. In Washington, D.C., there is also an opportunity to reform career education, which has bipartisan support. Federal dollars to support high-quality career education programs should be aligned with the progress being made at the state level to increase every child’s prospect of a good job in growing industries nationwide. For example, the U.S. Department of Education recently launched a pilot program to provide federal aid to students for certain nontraditional training programs. This is welcome news for the technology community, which has 500,000 information and technology job vacancies and another million jobs that need to be added in the coming decade.

We are committed to working with the leaders in every state and city, as well as the new President and Congress, to modernize career education in our schools by shining a spotlight and investing in the programs that are making a measurable difference. We owe it to our young people to give them a chance to hit the ground running when they finish school in a job that gives them hope and real shot at a better future.

This piece was originally published in The Hill.

About the Authors:
Chauncy Lennon is the Head of Workforce Initiatives for JPMorgan Chase & Co. Chris Minnich is the Executive Director of the Council of Chief State School Officers.