Real-world skills warrant more emphasis in high school claim students, employers, parents and other adults in three nationwide surveys conducted this June. While 83% of the students surveyed do plan to go to college, they’d like to see less focus on college-entry exams and more on practical skills like personal finance and tax preparation.
The surveys, funded by the Kansas City, Missouri-based Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, polled a demographically diverse sampling of over 2,000 people from across the country on topics related to how well today’s high school education prepares students for the world of work.
The first survey consisted of 1,015 adults with an oversample of 516 parents, and the second 510 students between the ages of 13 and 18.
While some students polled had yet to enter high school, most questions either asked for an opinion or offered an “I don’t know” option. Finally, a third survey polled 501 employers in the position to make hiring decisions.
Here’s an overview of the research findings.
Student opinions about the value and purpose of a high school degree
All groups agree that graduating from high school is essential. However, compared to other groups a greater percentage (63%) of students believe that they would be held back professionally if they were to hold only high school degree.
Consistent with their plans to attend college, 80% of students see a college degree alone as sufficient for future success. Interestingly, 34% of the employers disagree.
Upon high school graduation, 84% think that they’ll possess the skills to succeed at college while only 56% see themselves as ready to succeed in the real world. Even less (52%) imagine they’ll be prepared to embark upon a career and a mere one third feel they’d be ready to start a business.
Despite the majority considering themselves college-bound, 64% of students thought the primary focus of high school education should be providing the skills needed to succeed in the real world — as opposed to skills for pursuing higher education. They weren’t given the option to choose both.
Employers see desirable skills underdeveloped in high school
Surprisingly, 86% of all employers said they’d hire someone with just a high school degree — blue-collar and small employers were the most open. Adding a credential or employer-recognized skill to that degree boosted buy-in to 91%. Alternatively, 72% of the employers said an applicant with high test scores in high school would be attractive.
Employers were more likely than the other adults to perceive an overemphasis on subject matter in high schools at the expense of soft skills. They called for greater focus on self-management skills, including time management and emotional intelligence, such as the ability to tolerate unpleasant emotions.
Blue-collar employers saw the greatest discrepancy between what students are taught and what they need to succeed in the workplace. Outside of a gross overemphasis on test preparation cited by all the respondents, these employers felt the greatest gaps were in “judgment and decision making” and “control or expression of emotions.”
Given the opportunity to elaborate on the qualities sought when making hiring decisions, one employer shared, “a broad set of skills that we can use in our workplace alongside a willingness to adapt and change.”
Looking ahead to the future
All respondents view today’s students as less prepared for the workforce than prior and future high school graduates. They’re pushing for a change — be it radical or gradual.
Going forward, students want to see more focus on financial literacy and organization, plus greater job shadowing and internship opportunities. With 92% of employers reporting that an industry-related internship influences their decision to hire an applicant, these students seem on target.
The currently emphasis on technology in most high schools is a positive thing. Students, parents and employers want it to continue and expect to see the greatest future demand for jobs in STEM-related areas.
While all recognize that the changing world of work will inevitably impact today’s students, they’re optimistic that evolving technology will create numerous opportunities they’ve yet to imagine.