• Become an SSTI Member

    As the most comprehensive resource available for those involved in technology-based economic development, SSTI offers the services that are needed to help build tech-based economies.  Learn more about membership...

  • Subscribe to the SSTI Weekly Digest

    Each week, the SSTI Weekly Digest delivers the latest breaking news and expert analysis of critical issues affecting the tech-based economic development community. Subscribe today!

Regions Target Education Partnerships to Develop Next Generation Workforce

May 15, 2013

A recent report from Brookings suggests that, for a variety of reasons, the value of a traditional four-year degree is diminishing. At the same time, U.S. employers continue to reference a general lack of employable skills as a major obstacle to employment growth. Across the country, regions are using new, innovative approaches to develop their local workforce while also educating students to compete in a 21st century global economy.

Should Everyone Go To College? published by Stephanie Owen and Isabel Sawhill of the Brookings Institution's Center on Children and Families, suggests there is a diminishing return-on-investment for bachelor's degrees. The skyrocketing cost of college tuition, combined with the rapid accumulation of national student debt and decreasing value of traditional educational skills in the modern workplace account for a widening degree of value in traditional degrees.

These trends point to the need for regions to develop new forms of educational training for K-12 students that teaches them marketable skills and provides local high-growth businesses with a well-trained workforce. Regions across the country are responding by using new, innovative approaches to develop their local workforce, boost regional competitiveness, and prepare youth to compete in the 21st century global economy. Examples are provided from New York City and the suburbs of Austin, Texas.

Global Technology Preparatory school in East Harlem, New York City, has partnered with a program called Citizen Schools, which aims to enhance the curriculum in urban public schools by inviting members of the private sector to share their knowledge and skills with students in after-school programs.

An article from Atlantic Cities reports that Citizen Schools brings volunteers from corporations such as Google, Microsoft, and Raytheon into over 30 middle schools in low-income neighborhoods around the country. Professionals teach 10-week apprenticeships, most of which focus on learning STEM skills. Students are learning to make video games, build computers, and create and market products, from a cadre of volunteer teachers.

Another example in the Christian Science Monitor comes from Manor, Texas. On his recent Middle Class Jobs & Opportunity Tour, President Obama visited Manor New Tech High School. The school is part of the New Tech Network (NTN), a nonprofit that works with 120 schools nationwide, 90 percent of which are in public school districts. NTN builds curriculum by working with local businesses and nonprofits to develop student-centered projects that foster teamwork and problem-solving.

Unlike traditional educational models that split vocational and college-prep education, New Tech curriculum teaches vocational skills on a college-prep level to prepare students for high-skill jobs in high-growth, tech-based industries. Students lead consulting projects for local corporate partners and have used crowdfunding portals to raise money for school projects. And in the case of schools like New Manor, NTN also services a diverse group of students, with a majority qualifying for free or reduced-price lunches, and most hoping to become first-generation college students.

These initiatives represent a fraction of the programs that regions are experimenting with across the country, and the federal government is actively seeking to promote these efforts. The Obama administration's 2014 budget included a proposal for $300 million for a High School Redesign competitive grant program for districts that partner with colleges, businesses, and nonprofits to develop the skills needed for future jobs. The program would bolster existing efforts to support K-12 workforce development. For example, with assistance from federal grants, including the Investing in Innovation (i3) initiative, some states have integrated NTN schools into their plans for improving education and economic development. Indiana, a leader in education innovation, now has 23 NTN schools.

workforce, stem, education