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Business, Education, Community Groups Must Collaborate to Improve Workforce Readiness
By: Frank Tortorici

The most vital course of action currently needed on workforce readiness is for business, education and community groups to work together toward developing a shared sense of responsibility.

This conclusion is from a preliminary report soon to be released by The Conference Board, Corporate Voices for Working Families, Partnership for 21st Century Skills, and the Society for Human Resource Management, based on a stakeholders meeting which focused on the problem of poor workforce readiness held last June in Washington, D.C.

The meeting — sponsored by Dow Corning and the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation — follows the fall 2006 workforce readiness report, Are They Really Ready to Work?, by the four aforementioned organizations, which concluded “the future workforce is here and it is ill-prepared.”

“The business and education sectors view each other with suspicion,” says the new report. “The meeting reinforced that it’s time to move forward by developing a shared sense of responsibility around workforce readiness.”

The report is based on comments collected at a two-day session attended by representatives of groups involved with improving workforce readiness: Fortune 100 companies; non-profit organizations involved with educational improvement; and elementary and secondary school teachers and school superintendents.

Stephanie Burns, Chairman, President and Chief Executive of Dow Corning, said: “We are proud of the engagement and participation of educators from around the country in forums like this one. Their voices - their experiences and skills - are the critical components as we move toward solutions that address significant issues in education.”

The participants heard from a variety of speakers who discussed a range of topics focused on answering the question: “What would you tell a CEO to do to improve workforce readiness?”

Other preliminary suggestions offered by the meeting’s participants:

  • Workforce readiness problems need to be fixed today so that the future is brighter. Stakeholders must work toward changes that are sustainable, not “quick fixes.”
  • Mere competency is not the ticket to success in the workforce; rather it is just the price of admission.
  • Applied or “soft skills” (e.g., the ability to communicate, to think creatively) are now considered essential. The basics of the “three Rs” are necessary but not sufficient to succeed on the job.
  • School success must be redefined to include assessments for teamwork, civic involvement, professionalism, communication, and analytical thinking
  • The 8 a.m.-2 p.m. and off-for-summer school schedule is an artifact of the agricultural economy and is no longer in sync with household or business schedules. It must be complemented by other educational experiences such as community service and work experience, as well as after-school activities.
  • Stakeholders must foster a love of life-long learning. One universal goal should be community-wide collaboration to create a seamless learning system that features multiple ways of learning in different environments, including the workplace, throughout one’s life.
  • Like business, schools need to continue reinventing and reeducating themselves if they want to remain relevant in a world of fast-paced economic change and ensure that their populations have access to a level employment playing field.
  • Parents must be given the support they need to provide early and continuing support for their learning and development. Cognitive, social and emotional development in years 0-5 provide the foundation for future achievement.

Meeting participants also concluded that it is critical for business, especially CEOs, to take the lead in improving workforce readiness. This should include becoming more focused and working more closely with each other to foster collaborative long-term public/private partnerships that stress not just financial contribution-but also sharing of time, talent, and experience.

Among the methods suggested for businesses to strive for better workforce readiness: encouragement of employees as agents of change; support of change at the local and state levels; initiation of PR campaigns; raising of awareness and prestige of the teaching profession including funding of “teacher of the year” awards; lobbying at all levels of government; leveraging of membership in multiple business groups to align agendas; suggesting that HR departments can play a more active role in workforce readiness, including mentoring.

For further information contact: Frank Tortorici  (1)212-339-0231