ENCORE POST: From Pipelines to Gardening


The most common image when talking about workforce development is that of a “leaky pipeline;” where we lose people at every key transition point along the way to the labor pool. In high school, we lose the people who drop out before graduation. Among those who do graduate, we lose the ones who don’t go on to some form of postsecondary education. Among those who do pursue postsecondary credentials, we have another round of dropouts who leave before earning a degree or certification. As a result, the final pool of qualified workers is much smaller than the pool we started out with.

Our workforce development model was designed in the 1960s, and it worked because the largest demographic cohort in history – the Baby Boomers – was feeding into the pipeline. We had a huge number of people, and a limited number of jobs requiring advanced skills or credentials. But things have changed – the Boomers are leaving, and the number of jobs requiring advanced education and training has grown exponentially. So, the leaky pipeline model, which is still very much in place, is producing all kinds of worker shortages, as any employer can tell you.

To deal with this challenge, NC3T has instead been advocating for a “gardening” mentality, in which every seed is nurtured. That means providing every single student with opportunities to learn about the world of work, identify their interests, develop a path and pursue the opportunities that provide the best possible fit. It works for them as students – there’s plenty of research on improved outcomes and levels of engagement – and it works for them as entrants into the workforce. And of course, it works for employers as well.

Our approach is one of Career Connected Learning, ensuring that connections to the real world – specifically, the world of work – are made for every student. This is the heart of Career and Technical Education, though it can and should happen outside of a formal CTE program of study. Our role in this is to build awareness, advocate, train, and support the work that educators and policymakers are doing in this arena, and we look forward to working with all of you to build and manage rich, engaging experiences for every single student in our schools. To learn more about our work, visit www.NC3T.com.

Brett Pawlowski is Executive Vice President of NC3T, the National Center for College and Career Transitions (www.nc3t.com). NC3T provides planning, coaching, technical assistance and tools to help community-based leadership teams plan and implement their college-career pathway systems and strengthen employer connections with education.


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