Employers Lead the Way: Building the Future Workforce

Published oct. 25, 2016

Education, workforce, business, and philanthropic leaders gather at the Career Pathways Lab co-hosted by Jobs for the Future, Linked Learning Alliance, and The Wonderful Company in Beverly Hills, California.*

This month, Jobs for the Future (JFF) organized two gatherings with prominent employer and educator leaders. The global software company SAP and JFF convened the SAP Ideas Forum on October 6th in Boston, Massachusetts. The event featured postsecondary, business, and government partners from the Harvard Graduate School of Education, City of Boston, Massachusetts Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development, IT Futures Foundation, GE Foundation, and JPMorgan Chase & Co. Students from C-Town Tech, a pilot information technology (IT) program at Charlestown High School, showcased their information technology projects through interactive demonstration after the panel discussions.

The following week on October 13th, The Wonderful Company, JFF and the Linked Learning Alliance co-hosted the Career Pathways Lab in Beverly Hills, California. The Career Pathways Lab brought together key education and industry stakeholders. Speakers included executives from The Wonderful Company, JPMorgan Chase & Co. Global Philanthropy, and Oakland Children’s Hospital, as well as state and local government officials.

Innovative Approaches to Career Pathways

The employer co-hosts of each event—SAP and The Wonderful Company—exemplify models of deep employer engagement in pathways development. They partner with high schools and postsecondary institutions to design and implement structured career pathways that align with the rapidly changing needs of regional labor markets. As an example, SAP partnered with JFF, Boston Public Schools, the City of Boston, Bunker Hill Community College, and the Boston Private Industry Council to launch C-Town Tech. Currently, two cohorts of ninth and tenth grade students are enrolled in college-level courses and earning free college credit. Youth explore potential jobs in the IT field through visits to SAP’s Boston office and other work-based learning activities.

The Wonderful Company illustrates a second impressive case. The Company, along with two other California farms, created Wonderful Agriculture Career Prep (Ag Prep) program. Ag Prep, an early college model, enables high school students in the state’s Central Valley to earn a no-cost Associate of Science degree during high school in three career pathways: plant science, agriculture mechanics, and agriculture business. Students participate in a sequence of work-based learning experiences culminating in paid internships. After graduating, youth can pursue either a four-year degree or qualify for a high-tech agricultural position at The Wonderful Company or other companies in the Valley.

Key Takeaways

  1. Cross-sector partnerships among high schools, postsecondary institutions, and employers are essential, but require bridging the different cultures of business and education. Intermediary organizations such as JFF help establish and manage these complex relationships. When business/educator partnerships work well, employers play a vital role as collaborators by jointly designing curricula with educators, mentoring students, and offering internships and job shadowing. Most important, students gain invaluable, real-world skills that they cannot attain in any other way.
  2. Work-based learning experiences mutually benefit youth and employers. Internships and other work-based learning activities expose young people to future career options. Simultaneously, employers can leverage students’ talent and creativity to enhance their industries. Young people ask fresh questions that can lead employers to new ways of thinking about processes and procedures. Implementing quality work-based learning experiences requires thoughtful planning and coordination, which intermediaries can also broker and facilitate.
  3. Employers, schools, and intermediaries alike must meet youth where they are. Career pathways should reflect adolescents’ varied developmental needs, skills, and interests. High school students require guidance and training in navigating college-level courses and workplace settings, but flourish when given opportunities to step into the adult business environment. Designing developmentally appropriate lessons and embedding seamless supports into pathway programs lays a strong foundation for youth to succeed.

Employers Champion Career Pathways… Join Them!

The SAP Ideas Forum and Career Pathways Lab underscore that many employers embrace the crucial role they play in developing meaningful pathways between high school, postsecondary, and the workforce. We are encouraged by this momentum. Let’s harness this energy and accelerate our efforts to prepare the next generation for productive futures. We urge more business and industry leaders to join us in this collective work.

*Standing from left to right: Christopher Cabaldon, president of Linked Learning Alliance, Darrell Steinberg, chair of the Linked Learning Alliance and mayor elect of Sacramento, Lynda Resnick, vice chair and co-owner of The Wonderful Company, Chauncy Lennon, managing director and head of workforce initiatives at JPMorgan Chase & Co. Global Philanthropy, Nancy Hoffman, Senior Advisor at Jobs for the Future, Noemi Donoso, senior vice president at Wonderful Education, and (sitting) Dr. Barbara Staggers, director of adolescent medicine and director of external affairs and community relations at Children's Hospital Oakland. 

View JFF's work-based learning publications.

Learn more about The Wonderful Company's Agriculture Career Prep pathways program.

Read JFF's A Blueprint for SAP Education Initiatives Report.