Business Schools Partner to Improve Employee CompetenceReading, writing, and arithmetic may have done it for our parents or even ourselves, but knowledge of those core subjects alone is no longer sufficient to prepare American high school and college graduates to work and compete in the global 21st century economy. Several major employers, including Cisco, Apple, and Intel, experienced such frustration with finding workers with the necessary knowledge and skills that they joined forces to close the gap. Enlisting the National Education Association as a partner, representatives from those major companies and others went directly to the U.S. Department of Education to voice their concerns. Then, they took action. The Partnership for 21st Century Skills was created in 2002 to work with state school systems and districts to align classroom environments with real-world environments. Founding corporate partners included the companies listed above plus AOL Time Warner, Dell, Microsoft, and SAP. “There was a strong sense of corporate responsibility [for addressing these gaps], as business truly is the beneficiary,” says Steven Paine, Ed.D, president of the Partnership for 21st Century Skills, or P21. “Businesses have told us that we have a lot of work to do in the core subjects, but there is also a wide workplace skills gap that employers have been forced to fill. They must spend time and money to teach employees basic business skills even though they recruit and hire top candidates.” “Companies were frustrated,” agrees Helen Soule, executive director of P21. “Employees lacked the skills to make the knowledge work. They needed to be told what to do.” Since its inception in 2002, P21 has more than quadrupled its membership, growing from eight founding organizations to 39 members representing America’s leading business, technology, and education organizations. The group works to improve education by incorporating 21st century readiness into state school systems; 19 have signed on thus far. Paine, P21 president since mid-January, was State Superintendent of Schools for West Virginia when he first heard of the organization at a Council of Chief State School Officers meeting. The P21 executive director at the time, along with a representative from Dell, presented the P21 framework to the assembled group. “I was spellbound,” says Paine. “I saw it as exactly the right agenda for linking our school systems to the business world. We have an obligation to prepare kids for life after formal schooling. If schools don’t do it, who will?” With input from employers, researchers, and funders, P21 has developed an educational framework for learning in the 21st century. They have identified six key elements of a 21st century education:
- Core subjects: English, math, science, foreign language, civics, government, economics, arts, history, and geography
- 21st century content: global awareness; financial, economic, business, and entrepreneurial literacy; civic literacy; health and wellness awareness; and environmental literacy
- Learning and thinking skills: critical thinking, problem solving, communication, creativity, innovation, collaboration, information and media literacy, and contextual learning
- Information and communications technology literacy
- Life skills: leadership, ethics, accountability, adaptability, productivity, responsibility, people skills, self-direction, and social responsibility.