A modern workforce is key to America's economic future
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Much was said during the presidential campaign about creating economic opportunity for those who feel left behind. Now, we must figure out how to achieve this. We can begin by giving young people the skills they need to succeed and modernizing our nation’s education system to help every child to pursue a career after high school.

Simply graduating from high school used to lead to a good paying job, but that’s no longer the case. Forty years ago, nearly 75 percent of jobs were for people with a high school degree or less. Flash forward, that number has dropped to below 40 percent today, while wages for these jobs have declined by 15 percent.

While it’s clear our economy has changed since the 1970s, our education system has not always kept up. Young people who head straight into the workforce after high school are often not adequately prepared with the right skills that employers desperately need. Moreover, too many of those who go on to post-secondary schools and programs are not aware of the opportunities in the growing number of “middle skill” occupations in our labor market.

These are jobs that pay good wages and lead to careers in high-growth industries, such as healthcare, advanced manufacturing and information technology. The ticket to entry for these jobs is a high school degree and some type of post-secondary degree or credential, which they can earn while in high school or soon after graduating.

Across the country, employers are struggling to fill positions for machinists, radiology technicians and software developers—jobs that range from middle skill to high skill. The U.S. economy will create more than 16 million good-paying jobs through 2024 that do not require a bachelor’s degree. But employers will find it difficult to find enough people with the skills to fill them.

We owe it to America’s young people to prepare them for all of the opportunities available. We put our country’s long-term economic prospects at risk if we don’t invest in the skills that workers and businesses need to succeed.

Part of the solution is to invest in education pathways that adequately prepare all students with the technical skills they need to go on to pursue a career. With these pathways, students can graduate and go on to four-year colleges or into post-secondary programs that provide them with in-demand labor market credentials for many advanced-skill jobs and well-paying careers.

One area is the healthcare profession, which is in dire need of skilled workers. With more than 44 million Baby Boomers likely in need of greater medical attention over the next decade, the healthcare workforce is not big or skilled enough to meet the demand. For example, we will need to train an additional 28,000 phlebotomists by 2024. These healthcare support workers who draw blood from patients have a bright future in the industry. They earn a median annual wage of over $31,000 and gain access to pathways to other jobs in hospitals, laboratories and healthcare organizations.

Ultimately, we must invest more in career preparedness programs.

We can’t just look to the president, Congress or state leaders to develop a solution. It is the responsibility of all of us—businesses, educators, labor leaders and elected officials.

This week, JPMorgan Chase and the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) invested $20 million in 10 state programs to dramatically increase the number of students who graduate from high school prepared for well-paying careers. Developed as part of JPMorgan Chase’s $75 million global New Skills for Youth initiative, each awarded state will work with government, business and education leaders to strengthen career education and create pathways to economic success for all students.

This investment is critical because states and local school districts have typically lacked the resources to innovate and strengthen their career education programs. In Washington, D.C., there is also an opportunity to reform career education, which has bipartisan support.

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Federal dollars to support high-quality career education programs should be aligned with the progress being made at the state level to increase every child’s prospect of a good job in growing industries nationwide. For example, the U.S. Department of Education recently launched a pilot program to provide federal aid to students for certain non-traditional training programs.

This is welcome news for the technology community, which has vacancies for 500,000 jobs and another million jobs that need to be added in the coming decade.

We are committed to working with the leaders in every state and city, as well as the new president and Congress, to modernize career education in our schools by shining a spotlight and investing in the programs that are making a measurable difference for all kids. We owe it to our young people to give them a chance to hit the ground running when they finish school in a job that gives them hope and a real shot at a better future.

Chauncy Lennon is the head of workforce initiatives for JPMorgan Chase & Co. Chris Minnich is the executive director of the Council of Chief State School Officers.


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