When I participated in a panel at the ASU+GSV Education Innovation Summit this week, my goal was simple. I hoped to communicate — in no uncertain terms – just how critical education transformation is to the health of the global economy. This sold-out conference brought together innovators of all kinds: entrepreneurs, investors, philanthropists, politicians, educators and other advocates for reform. And while this diverse group was not necessarily unified in their approach to change, there was unanimous agreement that workforce-readiness is one of education reform's most urgent objectives.
We know what employers will be looking for in the next decade, and it's our obligation to prepare students to be productive members of society. Yet, there is a growing disconnect between what employers need to succeed in our 21st century economy and the ability of new graduates to fill those needs. A recent McKinsey & Company study highlights the struggles of employers seeking to fill jobs for which most new graduates are ill-prepared. According to the report, youth joblessness in nine countries (Brazil, Germany, India, Mexico, Morocco, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, the UK and the US) exceeds 25 percent, yet only 43 percent of employers felt they could find enough skilled entry-level workers. As the report points out, "The journey from education to employment is a complicated one… but too many young people are getting lost along the way."
The good news is that, with the right tools and technology, along with well trained and supported teachers, today's students have virtually unlimited opportunities in the workplace of tomorrow. But getting to that objective – productive, meaningful employment – depends a lot on our ability to get kids engaged in math and science early on. Microsoft addresses the technical skills gap directly through our IT Academy, which helps students learn and develop these skills to mastery, and earn industry-recognized certification credentials. And STEM programs of all descriptions (check out Code.org , if you haven't already) are flourishing in schools around the world.
For its part, higher education must work with employers to ensure that graduates are not just earning their credentials, but that those credentials translate to meaningful work. This will require curriculum changes and a different way of thinking for college administrators.
Based on my experience at this week's Education Innovation Summit, there's good reason to believe that all the right forces are aligning to make education not just more engaging for today's students, but also much more closely tied to the ultimate outcome: rewarding and successful lives for students and next-generation workforce for the global economy.
Vice President of Worldwide Education