Preparation Meets Opportunity: A Model in Successful Workforce Readiness

Today's high school, community college and university graduates face the daunting challenge of selling themselves in a job market that can afford to be picky about required knowledge and experience. A small percentage of these graduates will land the entry-level job of their dreams, or pursue additional training and education. A larger number will spend an extensive amount of time applying for jobs online, networking and attending job fairs. How can students better prepare themselves for a successful career? How will they get that unique selling proposition that sets them apart from their peer competitors?

Principal Phillip Pearson of Corbett High School in Oregon wants his students to think ahead and get prepared. In fact, his students are required to think about their future careers: the Corbett School District recently set a new requirement for graduation: every student must get accepted to a college or trade school. The students are not obligated to attend the school to which they are accepted -- the goal is for them to learn first-hand what it takes to advance their education and gain that "edge." Preparation meets opportunity.

The interesting part about this is Mr. Pearson's idea of what success looks like, and it doesn't always include the traditional pathway; he not only references four-year colleges and universities, but calls out trade schools, too. With an increased need for skilled workers in the U.S. workforce, specifically in manufacturing (as many as 600,000 well-paying jobs are going unfilled due to a lack of qualified applicants) trade schools are an excellent way to enter the workforce. "Trade" doesn't mean what it meant even five or 10 years ago. Community colleges and trade schools quickly and directly teach the core skills needed for individuals to land a job, and they often have close ties to the community, which gives them the unique opportunity to develop programs that meet local needs.

The Brookings Institution makes a strong case that four-year post secondary education may not be for everyone, but we disagree with their position that an expensive advanced education may be wasted on a student who hasn't performed well in high school. Trade schools are rapidly growing as the first choice for students -- not the default when college isn't a possibility. Trade schools allow for students to focus on a specific craft and get them to work, fast. How do they do it? Most trade schools specifically design their curricula for fields that have the best current and future growth potential. And when it comes to preparing oneself for a career in advanced manufacturing, there is the requirement to do well in math and science (STEM), because the jobs available now require it.

Alcoa and Alcoa Foundation are pursuing initiatives that streamline the steps and time required to move from education to employment, and ensure that students and youth are "workforce ready" for positions in advanced manufacturing. Alcoa Foundation's investments in the Manufacturing Institute's certification program with community colleges, 125th Anniversary -- Global Internships for Unemployed Youth with the Institute of International Education, and American Corporate Partners' mentoring programs for United States veterans are just some examples of these initiatives.

And once a student starts his or her first job, it shouldn't stop there. The path of life -- long learning can encourage employees to continue their education and certification to advance them in their careers and become even more attractive for future employers. Right now, the bottom line for students is to think ahead and get the specific skills that will make them stand out from the crowd.

This post is part of a series produced by The Huffington Post and the "Close It" Summit, in conjunction with the upcoming "Close It" Summit (Nov. 5-7, 2013, in Washington, D.C.). The summit will address the U.S. job-market skills gap. For more information on the conference, please visit