Donna Klein, Corporate Voices’ president and founder, gave the keynote address yesterday to the annual conference of School’s Out Washington in Vancouver, Washington. Donna highlighted a host of issues important to at-risk youth and to the business community. She also offered suggestions for how educators, community leaders, elected officials and business managers can work together to help solve a problem that has important implications for our young people, our economic competitiveness and the future of our democracy.

The speech is available on the Corporate Voices for Working Families website. Here are some excerpts.

On the problem of high school dropouts:

Here’s one example that spotlights the growing national crisis involving the young people who really are today’s learners – and tomorrow’s leaders.

 By the time I finish talking with you this morning, about 300 children in the United States will drop out of school. That’s on average 7,000 each and every day. Most will never return to complete even a high school education.

 Ladies and gentlemen, that’s a crisis for the young people themselves and for their families…for the communities in which they live…for a business community that relies on a skilled workforce today and in the years ahead…and for the very future of our democracy.

 And the problem of high school dropouts provides only one snapshot of a much larger picture: we’re failing to help our next generation of workers and citizens prepare for success in school, at work and throughout life.

The problem facing businesses:

New entrants to the workplace are not prepared. Corporate Voices and three partner organizations in 2006 surveyed more than 400 employers on a broad range of workforce readiness issues involving young people. And we issued a report, “Are The Really Ready To Work?” The answer, quite simply, is no. Employers tell us that 42 percent of high school graduates lack the skills they need to make a successful transition to the workplace of the 21st century. And even among recent college graduates, employers said only 24 percent had an excellent grasp of basic knowledge and applied skills. And while a college degree is not a requirement for successful entry into the workforce, employers do project that they will hire more new employees with a college degree and fewer with only a high school diploma.

On what needs to be done:

What, then, can be done? Based on our research and work with companies and organizations throughout the public and private sectors, we desperately – and quickly — need a markedly different approach to preparing our nation’s young people for adulthood.

 We must create a comprehensive, coordinated and integrated system of learning and development that provides a range of opportunities for young people to succeed through school and into their working lives.

 This involves the approaches we take to education in the classroom – and well beyond – in preschool and afterschool programs and in a commitment to lifelong learning. That’s why your efforts to focus on strengthening the partnership between afterschool programs and schools to best support student success in the classroom and in life are so vitally important.

 Furthermore, helping students succeed involves harnessing all of the talent and resources necessary to tackle a problem that isn’t just about young people – but about the future of our country.

 And it involves some key public-policy decisions at every level of government, federal, state and local.

 

by Rob Jewell