The National School Boards Association’s new report offers to help industry groups interact better with school districts to prepare “life-ready” graduates.
Associations know all too well that despite many well-paying jobs available in the industries they represent—whether construction or hospitality—there aren’t enough applicants willing or prepared to fill those positions.
Recognizing the widening skills gap, the National School Boards Association is offering recommendations on what school boards can do to produce students with “life-ready” skills that will help them be better prepared for college, career, or life.
“We saw a couple of major roles that school boards can play,” said Thomas Gentzel, NSBA CEO and executive director. “One is to be aware of some of these career opportunities—industries that may have well-paying jobs and are having trouble recruiting candidates.”
As part of this work, NSBA released “A Report of the Commission to Close the Skills Gap [PDF].” The document was created by a commission composed of members from NSBA and 10 industry groups, including the American Health Information Management Association, American Hotel and Lodging Association, and National Restaurant Association.
The report contends school boards can help widen the pool of job-ready applicants for unfilled jobs. The commission recommends schools put “equivalent focus” on career readiness and college readiness.
“I think there has been a very strong emphasis on college preparation,” Gentzel said. “One of the goals of the report is to point out there are 7 million jobs unfilled. Many are well-paying jobs that don’t require a college degree. Some require technical training or certificates.”
Get a Little Closer
The report also encourages a closer relationship between industry associations and schools. “What we heard from the business groups was some frustration that they had,” Gentzel said. “I think it came about both because many of them were trying to go school by school, knocking on doors of high schools, to talk about some of the certification programs they had. It was slow going, and it was difficult to get the attention of school officials.”
Even when business leaders got school officials’ attention, the process was often halted shortly after it started. “They were working high school principal to high school principal, and when they got a principal that was excited, the person then had to go up [the leadership chain] to get approval,” Gentzel said. That process could take weeks or months and slow momentum. “We are encouraging those conversations to start at a high level and work their way down.”
Local school boards can be particularly helpful because they are in charge of curriculum, course offerings, and graduation requirements for their districts. “There are opportunities that many associations provide—training programs, resources, credentialing programs,” Gentzel said. “That’s where we thought the partnership between NSBA and our state associations could help. We could get that information out to the schools.”
He noted that boards can help get the word out to students about industry certification programs or take it a step further and add programs to the curriculum. “There are apprenticeship programs, internship programs, work experiences they can get credit for,” he said. “Those are all programs that have to be developed by school districts.”
The goal for NSBA members is to produce well-prepared students, and Gentzel thinks that getting industry more involved will help both sides. “This is about what students need to be successful when leaving high school,” Gentzel said. “I think we have all the traditional and strong relationships with the education community. We went to reach out to people who might be less-likely partners but have shared interests.”