Aligning New Educational Strategies to Evolving Workforce Needs (2018 PI Meeting Reflection)

Submitted by Cadre-Admin on Fri, 06/22/2018 - 07:33

Amy Hawkins, University of Utah

HawkinsOn Thursday afternoon, I attended a panel discussion on “Today’s Education for Tomorrow’s College and Career Readiness.” The presentations and dialogue facilitated by the panel echoed some of the larger pragmatic themes articulated in the plenary session earlier that morning: how do we communicate about educational research and curriculum design effectively so that policymakers, teachers, and leadership within school systems understand how to apply research findings to practice? How do we as researchers address the concerns of our congressional representatives—those who are making the larger funding decisions and who rightly believe that they need to be accountable to the educational needs of their constituents as workers and companies as employers?

I found myself reflecting back on this conference session in particular when I attended a regional meeting on STEM Best Practices the following week in my home state of Utah. There, a teacher began his workshop on how to teach students coding by engaging them with flying drones by highlighting Gallup poll statistics that stopped him in his tracks: while 96% of university chief academic officers at universities believe that they’re effectively preparing students for the workforce, only 11% of business leaders agree. A conference room of classroom teachers immediately gave him their attention. Identifying that discrepancy is startling. Teachers would like their work to be relevant to the needs of their students.

Embedded within the concerns about education and the workforce is a larger question: can we predict how technological innovation will change the workplace enough so that we can adapt our educational strategies to serve an up and coming workforce? In the panel discussion, Dr. Thomas Kochan addressed this existential anxiety head-on, asking: do researchers who specialize in the changing workforce believe that robots will take over our jobs? Not exactly: some jobs will be eliminated, but largely researchers predict that automation will change the nature of the tasks that workers will perform. Still, we’ll need to be mindful of how to shift educational strategies so that our workforce can maintain a meaningful working relationship with evolving technology, rather than creating another generation of disenfranchised people with outdated work skills.

While session attendees acknowledged that the education community is often at a distance from the modern workplace, Grace Suh, Director of Education Programs at IBM Corporation, described a unique 9-14 public school model designed to address these technology educational needs and facilitate needed dialogue between industry and educational institutions to train students for a “middle skill” level workforce. She introduced Pathways in Technology Early College High School, or P-TECH, a six-year public school model that involves a collaboration between a federal and state governments, public school systems, community colleges, and private industry. Students who complete the program earn a high school diploma, an industry-recognized associate degree, and gain relevant work experience in a growing field with an industry partner starting at age 16. The P-TECH model shows wildly impressive statistics for their efforts compared to traditional community college models. While it may be problematic to compare outcomes such as graduation rates due to the comparatively high percentage of nontraditional students who enroll in community college, or students who transfer to four-year institutions, community college students often need to take remedial classes before they can focus on college-level coursework. By contrast, Ms. Suh reported that no student at any P-TECH school takes any remedial level math courses. However, P-TECH’s claims about the relative success of their students in college math courses are controversial and have been explored in national media, such as in this 2016 NPR story on Turmoil Behind The Scenes At A Nationally Lauded High School:

More information and statistics on the P-TECH model can be found at the IBM site: Further information on individual P-TECH schools and their educational design model, including a Skills Mapping Framework, can be found at the P-TECH website:


Sidhu, P. & Calderon, V. J. (2014, February 26) Many Business Leaders Doubt U.S. Colleges Prepare Students. Retrieved from

Kamenetz, A. (2016, March 14) Turmoil Behind The Scenes At A Nationally Lauded High School. Retrieved from

About the Author

Dr. Amy J. Hawkins is currently a postdoctoral researcher at the Genetic Science Learning Center at the University of Utah. Dr. Hawkins was one of the ten postdocs chosen to attend the 2018 DRK-12 PI Meeting.


Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.