A flailing economy, a massive technology skills gap and students that are nowhere near prepared for careers are cause for concern in today’s rapidly changing workplace.
As employers are scrambling to find candidates with the skills they need to fill jobs that didn’t even exist five years ago, it is clear that career technical education has not kept pace with today’s workforce demands.
We have barely learned to master our smart phones – I think this is the largest contributor to us falling so severely behind – and now, to compete in the world of work, we need a whole host of additional technological skills.
A growing number of top employers — from Google and Apple and everyone in between — are desperately trying to fill open positions.
Despite the fact that we have one of the highest unemployment rates in the world, as a country, we’re facing a steeply growing number of job openings without the workforce to fill them.
And we are not alone. At current rates, the US is facing the prospect of having as much as 55 million unfilled job openings by 2020.
There is clearly a disconnect between what schools are offering and what employers need, and the skills gap continues to grow as a result. To fix this we need to deliver more career pathways to more students, at an earlier age.
Unfortunately in South Africa it is highly unlikely that the Department of Education will do very much to address this looming crisis as just allocating a seat for every child is already proving to be a task that they are not up to.
All students — whether they plan to continue their education after high school graduation or not — should begin exploring pathways and developing the skills needed for in-demand careers during primary and high school.
Beyond preparing students for careers with good wages and job security, this also motivates them to perform better academically.
A recent Brookings study concluded that students enrolled in career readiness programs attended school more frequently and were more engaged. On average, 93 percent of students taking career readiness courses graduate high school, a powerful indicator of the potential impact of career readiness on student retention and graduation.
Along with the expansion of career education to more students, we need to reconsider how to deliver it most efficiently and effectively. It is not economically viable, or necessary, to build large brick-and-mortar vocational training centers focused on specific career pathways in each school district.
Instead, as parents, we can seek out those online resources – and they are available – that will give our children a foot in the door when it comes time for them to enter the job market.
Online career training programs can allow high school students the opportunity to attend an online high school or to supplement their brick and mortar high school education with specific career training that prepares them for a future in the workplace that is so rapidly changing that, already, it is totally unrecognisable from as little as five years ago.
Luckily, the resources are available and students can now learn technical skills online, from anywhere, thanks to new technologies including virtual reality and artificial intelligence.
For example, we can provide students with exposure to industry experts through live mentoring sessions, use virtual reality to offer 3-D anatomy and physiology tools to aid in health care education, and deploy learning tools to allow to enable students to practice coding and software development.
Unfortunately, in South Africa, the task is up to us as parents to ensure that our children receive these opportunities.
The fact is that the situation has become so dire that the EU recently called on South Africa to up the standards of our education system as South Africans are becoming, in the words of one high-ranking EU representative, unemployable.
And with political turmoil in South Africa being what it is with every cadre now covering his wickets in light of the unending stream of corruption and state capture scandals doing the rounds, I am afraid that not much will be done on a national level where education is concerned.
In other countries around the world, it is up to the education system and educators to provide for the needs of students to make sure that they keep up as the world and the workplace evolves.
In South Africa, it is up to us as parents.