Although we are experiencing high unemployment and joblessness, employers continue to have trouble finding skilled and educated employees. In order to close this education and skills gap, Congress must take a hard look at the education policies that shape the nation’s talent pool and determine the economic future of all its citizens.

Bringing attention to these issues and the newest ideas and trends in education reform, NBC News hosted its second annual Education Nation Summit last week in New York City, where parents, educators and students met with leaders in politics, business and technology to explore the challenges and opportunities in education today. Over the past year, NBC News has been committed to engaging policymakers and the public through continued coverage on the state of education. The event addressed the developments, challenges and progress of the past year, and identified and explored new, exciting opportunities to reinvent America as an Education Nation.

As part of a special Education Nation feature, on Thursday, September 29 Angela Cobb, leader of the New Options Project and Director of Return On Inspiration Labs, spoke with NBC’s Andrea Mitchell about how the New Options Project is working to connect out-of-school young adults ages 16-24 with meaningful career opportunities through the introduction of innovative tools and approaches.

“Education and training is a really important component for young adults who have become disconnected from the traditional education system and from work.  The first step for many young adults is connecting them to employment, so that they can…start to identify career paths and career options.  There is then greater context for their education, so it then makes more sense for them to go get their GED or high school diploma, get technical training or begin pursuing coursework at a community college or four-year college.”

Corporate Voices is a partner in the New Options Project, a multi-year initiative of the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, that seeks to connect more than four million young adults with no high school diploma to meaningful career opportunities that match their talents and skills. New Options works to connect employer talent needs with new sources of previously undeveloped talent. Local work zones are used to create and test innovative products and market-based approaches that provide pathways to employment, which are supported by national initiatives and movement building to influence perceptions.

Through its work with the New Options Project, Corporate Voices is committed to identifying and spotlighting businesses that make significant contributions to enterprising pathways. Recently AOL, Accenture, Bank of America, CVS Caremark, Expeditors, H.E.B. and Southwire were highlighted in a series of micro-business case studies published by Corporate Voices for their commitment to providing career training to low-income young adults.

An equally innovative and exciting partnership is between Corporate Voices’ corporate partner IBM and its innovative Pathways in Technology Early College High School (P-TECH) program, a joint effort with the City University of New York and the city’s Department of Education. P-TECH enables students to begin their college and professional lives more quickly and with more support than the typical school-to-work pathway. Graduates of P-TECH have the opportunity to earn an associate degree and leave the school with the skills and knowledge they need in order to continue their studies or step seamlessly into competitive jobs in the information technology (IT) industry.

The new school has even caught the attention of President Obama, who spotlighted it this week in remarks about education reform. It was also featured at the COMMIT! Forum in New York City, alongside Southwire’s flagship training program 12 for Life.

As policymakers wrestle with the task of reducing our nation’s deficit and at the same time creating an atmosphere that will promote job creation, they must not lose sight of the impact that education outcomes have on the vitality of the nation’s workforce.  The work with the New Options Project and these best practice employers show that Congress must align education policies with the talent needs of employers to help close the skills gap, to connect talent with employment and to encourage business to create economic growth and upward mobility through on-the-job training and ongoing human capital development.   Efforts like these will go a long way toward strengthening our future economic competitiveness. More specifically, Corporate Voices and its partners in the New Options Project ask Congress to make workforce needs central and to shape desired education outcomes by following these key principles:

  • Ensure complete skills development, including both academic and workforce skills.
  • Utilize contextualized and work-based learning.
  • Dramatically raise high school graduation rates.
  • Focus on the lowest-performing schools and hold them accountable.
  • Develop Enterprising Pathways
  • Promote post-secondary completion, not just enrollment.

Corporate Voices encourages you to visit its website to learn more about the New Options Project and the work other companies are doing to connect their own needs with the skills development of previously untapped talent.