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Preparing our youth for strong postsecondary outcomes is the most important job of our public schools. As State Superintendent, I’m a firm believer that all learning is in service to postsecondary success. Students deserve to graduate prepared for the post-graduation pathway of their choice, be it employment, enrollment in higher education, or enlistment in military service.
Research shows that in North Carolina, two-thirds of the jobs in growing sectors require more than a high school diploma. Employers seek both durable and technical skills and trends across the country demonstrate a gap between what employers seek and the labor available. Generally, the country has 9.9 million job openings, but only 5.8 million unemployed workers.
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Moreover, non-profit education advocacy organisation America Succeeds combed through 82 million job postings and discovered that about seven out of 10 skills requested by employers were durable skills. Sometimes, these jobs require a bachelor’s degree or higher, but many high-paying jobs require a non-degree credential and/or an associate degree which is within reach of most students and job seekers.
Currently, in our state, test scores define school and student success but future jobs demand more than testing acumen. However, according to the Employer Needs Survey, businesses in North Carolina are having trouble finding entry-level talent who possess the skills necessary to be successful in the workplace. This led us to create a more relevant, multi-faceted tool that allows educators to focus on the life-long, durable skills that students need to be successful no matter their post-secondary path. This tool is called the North Carolina Portrait of a Graduate.
We set out to identify the most important durable skills that North Carolina employers seek—adaptability, communication, collaboration, critical thinking, empathy, learner’s mindset, and personal responsibility.
In creating the North Carolina Portrait of a Graduate in the fall of 2022, we set out to identify the most important durable skills that North Carolina employers seek—adaptability, communication, collaboration, critical thinking, empathy, learner’s mindset, and personal responsibility. These skills were identified in grassroots regional conversations with multiple stakeholders throughout the state, both inside and outside of education. Through virtual convenings, the seven skills were identified and then compared with more than two million North Carolina job postings.
As the leading state agency responsible for serving 1.5 million North Carolina public school students, this data constitutes a clarion call to begin teaching the durable skills that employers deem lacking in their current candidate pool. It means the K-12 public school system can and should be the perfect partner helping to meet these unmet workforce demands.
Although the implementation of the North Carolina Portrait of a Graduate is in its early stages, I am encouraged by how our school districts are embracing this approach to deeper learning. Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools and Mooresville Graded School District (MGSD) are two such public school units embarking on this new model of educational practice.
“Where do we see pockets of excellence? How do we scale deeper learning? And how do we make the durable skills a reality for all students?”
Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools serves more than 53,000 students in Pre-K through grade 12 across 81 schools. To begin implementing the NC Portrait of a Graduate, senior staff learned about the durable skills and how to make the shift to deeper learning. They surveyed students about what it means to be engaged in learning and asked them to describe the characteristics of their most engaging learning experiences. They also launched powerful conversations with principals and other school-based leaders in which they discussed questions like, “Where do we see pockets of excellence? How do we scale deeper learning? And how do we make the durable skills a reality for all students?” Additionally, the district’s superintendent elicited direct feedback from a newly formed Parent Advisory and the Teachers of the Year throughout the district. Finally, Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools’ Board of Education approved a measure to adopt the Portrait of Graduate Durable Skills.
In Mooresville Graded School District (MGSD), a district of approximately 5,900 students near Charlotte, NC, the local Superintendent integrated the NC Portrait of a Graduate in their strategic plan. While engaging in ongoing conversations about durable skills and student readiness for the future, the Strategic Planning Steering Committee asked, “What is important for our students? What do we value? What do we want to produce in our graduates?” The answers to these questions led district leadership to include a Strategic Plan goal that embeds the Portrait’s durable skills into all content area instruction. Next, the MGSD will administer a student perception survey to gather feedback about learning experiences and opportunities to practice durable skills. Teams of educators will then analyse lessons and units to look for opportunities for more intentional integration of skills that will better prepare students for life beyond the classroom.
We know that deeper learning means combining academic excellence with durable skills development in all K-12 classrooms, like the two districts highlighted are beginning to do now. Students deserve to be prepared for a changing world once they graduate from high school. Global landscape shifts like the pace of change, the speed of innovation, and how the workforce is evolving impacts how — and what — our students must learn in the classroom.
Learn more about the OECD work on Skills
The OECD helps countries to improve skills governance and the design of both VET programmes and adult learning systems that are responsive to changing skill needs. It supports policymakers through better evidence on the skills of adults and employer needs as well as through advice on good policy practices.