Educational system must be meaningful

Dear Joan:
As a teacher, I see high school graduates who enter the workforce right after high school are unprepared. The company representatives are saying that many graduates are not considered for an entry-level position because they lack the skills they need to be successful in the workplace.

What do you feel are the skills the graduate needs to be considered for an entry level position? How can the school system prepare these students beginning in grade 9 and work with them through grade 12?

This is a real concern for me because I see only about 20 percent of our graduates entering college or technical college. As a whole, in our area we do not provide the best job training skills for high school students. We need to do a better job. But how? Where do we begin?

The place to begin is with people like you, who care about the problem and who take steps to do what they can. Obviously, the problem goes beyond the school system into the families, who have the responsibility for teaching the work ethic and supporting education. But the schools can do much more.

The American Society for Training and Development has begun an aggressive campaign to upgrade the training of America's workforce. Schools, who are looking for some assistance in this area, should pay attention to their research and detailed recommendations (703) 683-8100.

In my opinion, the keys to the success of our educational system lie in making the learning meaningful to young people. They need to see the relevance or applicability of the information, skills or behaviors to their real lives.

They also must be actively involved in the learning process, through interactive teaching methods and be able to share their own life experiences relative to the course content. They are young adults and this is how adults learn.

In one of the reports by ASTD, "Workplace Basics: The Skills Employers Want," the changing skill requirements have been outlined. There are seven skill groups:

Learning How to Learn: This is the foundation because it is the key that unlocks future success. The first step is to find out how the student best absorbs information-visual, auditory, tactile- and designing lessons that integrates that preference. Consequently, "open the book to page 32" isn't the only instructional method that should be used. (Teacher brainstorming sessions-with or without a representative from the business world- could help identify creative learning methods to try.)

Basic Competence in Reading, Writing and Computation: It's important for schools to find out how these skills are used in the workplace, so teaching methods can be modified. For example, traditional reading instruction is designed to teach reading skills in isolation for future recall or for following directions. In the workplace, the reader must summarize, analyze and apply the information.

Writing should emphasis analysis and clear, succinct distillation of information rather than just creative writing and essays.

Math skills are usually taught with a teacher presenting sample problems, followed by individual practice. At work, these skills are taught by connecting them to use on the job and instructional materials simulate specific job tasks. Building on prior math knowledge and emphasizing problem identification, reasoning, estimation, and problem solving produces the best results.

Listening and Oral Communication: The average person spends 8.4 percent of communication time writing, 13.3 percent reading, 23 percent speaking, and 55 percent listening. The five listening skills that are critical for workplace success: listening for content; listening to conversations; listening for long-term contexts; listening for emotional meaning; and listening to follow directions.

Creative Thinking and Problem-Solving: In the classroom, use real or simulated problems and use a group activity to solve it. Also, examine problems in new ways and invent new solutions to existing problems. For instance, creative thinking might be taught by asking students to find connections between seemingly unrelated ideas.

Self-Management: This includes, self esteem goal setting, motivation and personal development. Assisting students with goal setting and helping them to recognize their achievement toward their goals is a part of this education.

Group Effectiveness: This includes, interpersonal skills, negotiation, and teamwork. Whenever group work is assigned, include a self-evaluation of how well the team worked together, so students begin to understand what behaviors are most effective. Negotiation skills include separating people from the problem, inventing options for mutual gain and focusing on interests not positions. Help students solve their own conflicts instead of doing it for them.

Organizational Effectiveness and Leadership: Students need to understand the big picture of how organizations work and how to navigate the system. They should explore the goals, values, culture and methods of operation of their schools, families, employers, etc.

Leadership skills can be taught by allowing all students to experience it. They should gain experience in communicating a vision, learning how to gain cooperation from the group, working out a strategy with others and the importance of projecting emotional stability.

One final idea: Businesses team up with a school and loan an outstanding employee to the school for a year as a "workplace consultant."

Joan Lloyd is a Milwaukee based executive coach and organizational & leadership development strategist. She is known for her ability to help leaders and their teams achieve measurable, lasting improvements. Joan Lloyd & Associates, specializes in leadership development, organizational change and teambuilding, providing: executive coaching, CEO coaching & leader team coaching, 360-degree feedback processes, retreat facilitation and presentation skill coaching and small group labs. Contact Joan Lloyd & Associates at (414) 573-1616,, or 
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