The past two days, I have welcomed leaders from our county’s business community into our television studio to talk about “College and Career Readiness.” More specifically, I wanted them to talk – on camera – about the most critical skills and attributes that they look for in prospective employees. These are leaders that are invested in Howard County public education. They serve on committees, have formed partnerships with our schools, and welcome student interns.

As part of a team that is reimagining the preparation of students for life after high school in Howard County, we are reimagining “readiness” through the eyes of every possible stakeholder we can imagine. Employers, parents, educators, military, college, and even the students themselves. From each of these stakeholders, we’re searching for the drive that compels them to care so much about the ultimate success of today’s youth.

As a public education institution, we have been programmed to measure academic achievement and strive for greater performance in the classroom. Though we may not “teach to the test,” the “test” is very important in education – from kindergarten through masters and doctorate programs. Final exams, state assessments, and the SAT open – and close – doors of opportunities for students. I’m not making a case for or against this reality. I’m simply using it as a basis to begin the conversation of “readiness.”

What I have begun to hear in the two days of testimonials is interesting. Not surprising. But certainly interesting.

Soft Skills Gap

Reimagining Life Ready

After nearly two hours of conversation with leaders in the county business community, not once did anybody mention transcripts or SAT’s. Not once did anybody tell me how they look for candidates that were proficient in English and algebra. Only once, did GPA enter the conversation. So, how come these county leaders – who will one day be employing our current students – not mention the variables that determine whether or not our public education institution is successful? Why would they not mention the courses (English/language arts and mathematics) that define “College and Career Ready?” I mean, don’t these partners, who claim to be so invested in our county’s public education efforts, want educated students to enter their workforce?

Of course they do. They don’t dismiss the importance of education. However, their primary focus rests elsewhere. On other skills and attributes.

Leader. Problem-solver. Communicator. Willing to learn new skills. Team player. Good interpersonal skills. High character.

These were the attributes that employers are looking for. How do I know? They told me. Each and every one of them sat in front of me – on camera – and named these attributes as must-haves. If our school district were a ritzy restaurant, these customers were ordering from an unpublished a la carte menu. They were ordering attributes that we certainly value, but we don’t measure, and therefore, don’t spend a lot of time teaching. Perhaps it is a parent’s responsibility to teach these skills. Or perhaps it’s a joint effort of our entire community.

That’s what we intend to find out as we move through the process of reimagining “College and Career Readiness” and begin to look at it from a new perspective – one of becoming Life Ready.

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