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Building a career superhighway for opportunity youth

February 3, 2020

Career Superhighway 1By Dr. Matt Doyle, Superintendent, Vista Unified School District (VUSD) 

What if we reimagined our school system as a superhighway connecting career development pathways? What if this expressway contained no traffic lights or other obstructions, enabling students to travel quickly toward their career aspirations with the promise of employment in a growing priority sector upon graduation? 

“The world as we have created it is a process of our thinking. It cannot be changed without changing our thinking.”   

–Albert Einstein 

kids playing at deskIt is no longer an argument that our current education system is archaic and in need of a shift in thinking. This one-size-fits-all approach can be credited with the current challenge facing students ages 16 to 24 who are neither in school nor employed—called opportunity youth.  

Indeed, many schools and organizations are making impressive progress, shifting from a batch-based model, as if students were cookies, toward a more fluid approach that ebbs and flows in a natural pattern based on a learner’s personal improvement cadence. To these schools and organizations, I say “bravo” for braving the winds of change and the hail of hecklers who like making cookies and don’t want to trade in their aprons for new tools that enable learners to take the nearest onramp onto the “career superhighway.” 

Education Is a Social Network 

large group of students in manufacturing plantDr. Alan Daly, a leading expert in social network theory from UC San Diego and lead of the iCERP Action Council, postulates that educational reform is largely dependent upon professional relationships and school culture. This research shines a light on the shift in education needed to ensure our focus is on the right outcome. Currently, our collective efforts in education tend to focus on content expertise and not on developing the necessary dispositions for learning that promote robust social networks and flexible learning mindsets. 

Student Network Connections 

When students finish their formal education, marked by much-celebrated moments like high school or college graduation, the learning really starts. What I mean by this is that the learning that takes place in the traditional classroom is not connected to the network of career pathways that exist in the real world.  

As a result, students, upon graduation, are faced with a serious learning curve to adapt to the demands of a career environment that is increasingly complex and continuously evolving. Thomas Friedman calls this the “Age of Accelerations.” True education is much less linear than a course of study and more similar to a complex network of relationships and experiences that shape our understanding and develop our talent along the way.

True education is much less linear than a course of study and more similar to a complex network of relationships and experiences that shape our understanding and develop our talent along the way. Click To Tweet 

“Employers in many other countries have a much stronger tradition of working closely with K-12 and postsecondary institutions to ensure that school prepares young entrants for the labor market.”        

–Nancy Hoffman, Jobs for the Future 

young boy in hood with blocksThrough our collaboration with the San Diego Workforce Partnership to develop a career superhighway, we have found that employers are looking outside of our region and even our country to locate the talent needed to fill newly evolving jobs. As we reach out to employers, we discover that their disinterest in our locally grown graduates is less about academic training and more about a lack of knowledge and inability to navigate the world of work.  

Andy Calkins and his team at Next Generation Learning Challenges call this skill “wayfinding”—the journey from high school to gainful employment. Time and time again, we’ve heard employers proclaim that they can train new employees on the content and concepts, but they cannot develop the much-needed skills for learning and relationship-building in a complex social network. A 2016 World Economic Forum report underscores the need for our education system to link up to a new way of skill development that promotes essential skills like creativity, critical thinking and cognitive flexibility. 

Our charge throughout San Diego County is to create an ecosystem of collaboration between educators (PreK–16) and the business community that amplifies and elevates the talent and ability of opportunity youth to learn about, experience and navigate the world of work. In the words of the San Diego Workforce Partnership, “True opportunity is achieved through access to networks, knowledge and resources like transportation and child care alongside lifelong learning to help workers’ skills relevant to a rapidly changing economy.” We can make this aspiration a reality for the opportunity youth of San Diego County by showing them the on-ramp to a career superhighway.

Dr. Doyle, other VUSD educators and young adults will take the stage at Opportunity Summit 2020 to discuss how transforming education can prevent youth disconnection. Join us for this important event. 

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