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Education Secretary Arne Duncan says that kids need to be college and career ready, but the definition of those terms isn't exactly clear. That's why the Association for Career and Technical Education (ACTE) started a conversation Tuesday about what skills students should learn to succeed in the workforce.
Both students bound for college and for careers need core academic skills, but students who are planning to start their careers also need employability and technical skills.
"All three of them must be in place and must be achieved by an individual in order to be considered career ready,” said Jan Bray, the association's executive director.
A number of different groups have tried to define career readiness, and the next step for ACTE should be to research which skills matter in the workplace and in college, said David Wakelyn, a program director with the Center for Best Practices at the National Governors Association.
"It’s a nice first start for showing where the intersection is, where the overlap is for college and career readiness,” Wakelyn said. "But we need to verify that these skills are indeed the right skills.”
The basic academic skills include areas such as math and English, but schools shouldn't stop at teaching them — they must show students how to use academic knowledge in authentic situations they might face.
"Whether you’re going to be a doctor, a lawyer, a welder, a nurse, a cosmetologist, you name it, you’re going to need a core of academics that you can apply,” Bray said.
They also need to communicate effectively, work with others and be creative. Students might be able to land a job, but they may not keep the job without these skills, said Dave Bunting, executive director of the Iowa ACTE chapter and former executive director of programs at Kirkwood Community College.
"While employers want outstanding technical and academic skills, they absolutely demand outstanding employability skills,” Bunting said.
More than 3,000 high school juniors and seniors in Iowa take college credit courses that allow them to learn technical skills in specific areas. Through the Career Edge Academies, businesses, colleges and high schools work together to help these students prepare for their future.
"We think it helps students understand the skills that industry is demanding," Bunting said, "and it’s allowing them to get a great start.”
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