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Begin Workforce Development Early to Better Prepare Students for Future Careers

Research shows workforce development programs can help narrow the gap between labor shortages and the skills needed for highly skilled positions.

A few years ago, teacher Conor Corey was struggling to find curriculum for his fifth-grade math class in one of the poorest schools in Philadelphia. By chance, Corey discovered Khan Academy, an organization that provides free, online educational resources. Khan Academy filled Corey’s immediate needs for math curriculum, and provided an alternative for students who were advancing faster than their peers.

In 2017, Corey moved to Willow Dale Elementary, a Title I school with approximately 1,200 students in a working-class district north of Philadelphia.

“The superintendent saw several things I was doing with open resources, including Kahn Academy, and he gave me the opportunity to come to Willow Dale and pilot it as an intervention for math classes throughout the school,” says Corey.

The Khan Academy pilot was a success. Willow Dale raised standardized test scores by more than 20 percent, the only school in the district to do so. Based on those results, Corey wanted to explore how he could use Khan Academy to provide students additional curriculum and workforce development opportunities.

Workforce development has been viewed as a tool for people already in the workforce. But today, it can also help youth acquire knowledge and skills they’ll need in the future. Research shows workforce development programs can help narrow the gap between labor shortages and the skills needed for highly skilled positions. Starting early and using technology in the process is key. Platforms like Khan Academy provide a robust library of online learning tools and curricula so students face fewer learning limitations.

“Kids born today will have jobs that don’t even exist yet,” says Corey. “Students will need to develop skills beyond basic literacy — skills that can help them compete in the global economy.”
Rather than force highly motivated students to stick to standard curriculum, programs like Khan Academy help students learn new skills that can better prepare them for the workforce.

“To teach by competency instead of by grade levels is a game changer,” says Corey. “We have kids in second and third grade creating their own video games based on what they learn with Khan Academy. We have fourth graders doing algebra. We have fifth graders learning physics. To have a resource available to students that’s factual and mastery based is unbelievable. I think it’s going to help students better prepare for the direction they want to go in their careers.”
In 2017, AT&T contributed $2.25 million to Khan Academy to launch LearnStorm, a national learning challenge designed to equip students with the skills and mindsets they need to start the school year strong.

LearnStorm combines Khan Academy’s thousands of free, standards-aligned exercises with new, limited-time-only incentives to engage, celebrate and reward every student — no matter their level. The initiative reached nearly one million students, 23,000 teachers and 13,000 schools, and encouraged 90 million minutes of learning.

Hands-on programs are also highly effective workforce development tools. Last year, 15 Bronx High School students completed the first-ever summer internship program in AT&T retail stores in New York City. The program, dubbed DreamYard in the Bronx, allowed students to shadow AT&T sales and customer service experts at nine Bronx-area retail stores. Over the course of four weeks, the students learned about wireless technology and business management in a real-world setting.

“This was the first time in a work setting for all of them, and the impact was significant,” says Marissa Shorenstein, president, east region external affairs, AT&T. “Just giving them an AT&T shirt to put on each day and heading off to work had such an impact on them — they understand the value of work and a job.”
At the end of the summer, each student gave a presentation on the skills they gained throughout the program.

“The goal was to equip students with the professional skills and experience they need to succeed in college and beyond,” says Shorenstein. “We hope the experiences will inspire these students to continue to pursue careers in technology — and maybe one day, back at AT&T.”
To inspire educators and businesses to look for creative ways to work together to help prepare students for the future, the Center for Digital Education and AT&T created the guide, “Leading the Future for Students, for Educators, and in Technology: Transforming education today to build the workforce of tomorrow.” Download it now to learn more.