Skip to main content
  • 21st Century Workforce
    We Need New Approaches to Respond to 21st century workforce training Need

    Our globalized economy has fundamentally transformed all aspects of our world --from how we shop to how we bank and entertain ourselves --it is now knocking loudly on education’s door and asking that it also be transformed or risk obsolescence. Our old idea of preparing grade by grade a student for a stable factory based economy where there was almost a guarantee of lifetime employment went out of the window sometime in the early naughts. We are now in a gig knowledge based economy where your ability to work is connected fundamentally to your ability to continuously learn and apply new knowledge. School systems are not tuned into this yet nor are the governmental systems that support them--one clear example of this--our K-12 system exists inside its own particular bubble as does the workforce training system--some students who need the services the Department of Labor Employment and Training system provide never know that such a system exists. One of the reasons for this is that higher education that sits atop the K-12 system has detected that anyone who does not successfully compete for a  four year college placement is some kind of failure. As a result whether consciously or not career and technical (often referred to as “vocational”) programs are often stigmatized and many schools focused on that one metric-- how many students applied for four year colleges leave too many school leavers in the dust as far as preparing them for the world of employment in the 21st century. One metaphor for this situation comes to mind--imagine you live in the Arctic Circle and you handed out insulated winter coats and gloves for those fortunate enough to apply for four year college and gave raincoats to the rest. It would not be considered by any measure a good idea. Businesses are starting to wake up to the fact that there is a skills shortage and that we cannot any longer avoid the huge waste of talent that occurs because too many of these raincoated clad young people cannot find their way to jobs that can support anything approaching a  middle class lifestyle. AT&T has instituted  new “Future Ready” program. The company shows online what jobs are available and in high or low demand--salary and career path are also shown giving potential applicants a sense of what kind of future they can point their ship towards. The program has helped reduce the company’s hiring of external candidates. AT&T is a leader in recognizing what companies must do today to use talent wisely, efficiently and effectively and it is a message that the public sector should take seriously. Few high school juniors and seniors have any idea of the job market that excludes committing to a four year college degree. The lack of information and awareness that the choice is not between a guarantee of a middle class lifestyle by attending college at a cost of around a quarter of a million dollars in debt or a future of minimum wage jobs mirrors the failure of the federal government to invest the resources necessary. While the federal government subsidies the cost of higher education through Pell grants and funds to state college there is a paucity of programs designed to help the young non college goer find his or her feet. The programs that do exist connect only tangentially with schools--for example there is a provision in the Rehabilitation act that provides small grants for schools to assist mentally and physically challenged students with employment. There is of course the Career Technical Education program that the federal government funds but too many schools as this Edsurge report makes clear have no active business partnerships and limited capacity to understand the employment needs in their region. Too many are just focused on wood shop programs that were current since the post war period as the answer for the non college attending students.


    KP scholars, a company founded by Jim Smith is out to change the equation for the students who leave school without the weather proof educational foundations they need for today’s job market. Through partnerships with businesses and local chambers of commerce, Smith taps into the limited amount of funding that can help create programs that work for students. For example working with some charter schools in Prince George’s county he has established a program for seniors who have never written a resume or held a part time job and who have been left without any clear roadmap for their futures. The eight week program prepares these students for their first job by assisting them to understand their passions and skill levels. Once they understand for example that to be for example a sports coach might take more than simply wishing or knowing their favorite teams stats they begin to develop a more realistic idea of their futures. They begin to understand that the world is not about getting any  job and paying for the car that they have always wanted to drive but building a career one step at a time so that one position leads to experience that can be used to justify a pay increase and a step towards their goal. These may seem simple ideas but they are not easy for many students who come from disadvantaged backgrounds. They also need incentives that are short term enough to quickly grasp that is why Smith has connected the program with the Summer Youth employment program. The students that graduate successfully from the eight week course become automatically eligible to apply for a summer youth job related to their skill levels and goals.


    It is clear to Smith and other experts that schools cannot by themselves move us forward into the world of 21st century jobs. There needs to be a concerted effort by the private sector working hand in hand with the public and for intermediary organizations that know the pain points for both side to produce results. For two years running 95 percent of the graduates of the Prince George’s County program have been offered jobs and the program is constantly monitoring these students futures as they navigate their careers. KP scholars is currently in negotiations with Prince George’s county to expand the program county wide.

  • Busing Programs
    Busing Programs...Are They Worth The Trip?

    In 1979, I was chosen to participate in Project Concern, one of many desegregation social experiments implemented during the sweeping idealism of the 1960s. Based in Connecticut, Project Concern was a program that bused minority students living in impoverished inner cities to wealthy communities in the suburbs. From the third to the 12th grade of my education, I was bused nearly 25 miles from the city of Bridgeport, CT to what seemed like a completely different world–the affluent town of Westport, CT. Even today, the disparity between Bridgeport and Westport remains the same; by 1991 Bridgeport was listed as 5th in the nation for cities with the highest homicide rate per capita while Westport remains one of the wealthiest communities in the United States. It was my experience in Project Concern that taught me the true meaning of "the other side of the tracks".

    Today, researchers and scholars’ evaluations of Project Concern suggest a number of positive outcomes. Program participants pursue higher education at higher rates, perceive less discrimination, and feel more comfortable in predominately white environments. (Check out the following links for more expected outcomes: “ Finding Niches: Desegregated Students Sixteen Years Later" and "School Desegregation and Black Occupational Attainments: Results from a Long-Term Experiment")

    In many ways, I am a living testament of these positive outcomes. Nearly 20 years after I was bused daily from Bridgeport to Westport, I am an entrepreneur, motivational speaker and graduate of the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. I certainly recognize the significant contributions Project Concern played in my ability to achieve key milestones in my life.

    With all the positive outcomes of Project Concern, you would think that I would be a fervent endorser of the program. Ironically, this is not the case. When asked whether programs like Project Concern should be replicated in urban cities across the country, my answer is always a hesitant "I’m not so sure?" Why? Simply put, with the benefits come the tradeoffs…and the unresolved question in my mind is always, "was it worth the trip?"

    In the example of Project Concern, the city of Bridgeport funded the buses to transport inner-city children to schools in Westport but did not monetarily contribute to the Westport school system. Despite the busing program, Westport schools remained financed solely by the taxpayers of Westport. Needless to say, Westport parents expressed a little more than frustration over having to spend their tax dollars to have their children socialize with inner-city kids. Let’s just say that they had strong views on the subject.

    Besides backlash from the "receiving" communities of busing programs, programs such as Project Concern have other problems as well:

    • Logistics: Imagine yourself as an 8 year old Project Concern kid catching the bus to go to school in Westport, CT. You arrive at the bus stop a little after 6 a.m. to catch the 6:15 school bus. Once on board, your bus then takes approximately 60 minutes to pick up the other Project Concern kids. At 7:15 a.m. you begin the 25-mile journey to Westport, which takes approximately 40 to 45 minutes in rush hour traffic. At 3:00 p.m., the process is reversed and you arrive back at the original bus stop around 4:30 p.m. (traffic’s a little bit better in the afternoon). Oh, and don’t ask what happens if you miss the bus because you arrived at the bus stop at 6:20 a.m.
    • Participation in extracurricular activities: Since there was no funding for a "late" bus to provide transportation back to Bridgeport, participating in extracurricular activities was nearly impossible for Project Concern kids. Limited extracurricular opportunities and lack of time to socialize with fellow classmates amplified the differences between Project Concern kids and the kids resident to Westport.
    • Lack of strong advisors: The presence of mentors or counselors to help Project Concern kids and Westport resident students deal with cultural differences was nearly nonexistent. While coordinators were available periodically, I personally do not recall a strong support structure to deal with adjustment issues. Survival skills were acquired over time, and the experience was more difficult for some than others.
    • Alienation from home community: Arriving home at 4:30 pm (best case scenario) didn’t facilitate the bond between the Project Concern kids and the Bridgeport community. There was always a sense of being between two communities but belonging to neither.
    • Being a desegregation pioneer: Very difficult stuff. Given.

    Regardless of these tradeoffs, my experience with Project Concern has shaped who I am. "Crossing the tracks" on a daily basis for 10 years provided me with a broad comfort zone socially, lead to excellent educational opportunities, and allowed me to navigate within different racial and socioeconomic worlds with ease—an invaluable skill that I am glad to possess.

    So the question I pose to this community is what’s your opinion of busing programs? Do the long-term outcomes of busing and similar social experiments outweigh the short-term sacrifices? Are busing programs really worth the trip? 

Subscribe to Education