Taking the Long View: Workforce Development in K-12 Education

When economic developers think about the intersection of workforce development and education, their focus is usually on post-secondary training and higher education. Recently, however, some communities are making an effort to prepare students for the modern workforce much earlier.

Researchers at McKinsey predict that 40 percent of U.S. jobs are in occupational categories that are expected to shrink by 2030[1]. To counteract a future workforce shortage, K-12 education has become a priority for those communities looking to create more nimble workforce development cultures that are capable of rapid adaptation. The following three examples illustrate how workforce development challenges are being addressed through the K-12 system.

Public-Private Partnerships in Fort Worth, TX

Fort Worth city leaders are aware that training the city’s young people for professional success is necessary for continued economic growth. The city’s Stay in School Initiative offers multiple programs connecting students and schools with local businesses in an effort to link classroom learning with real world applications. The initiative is a partnership between the Fort Worth Independent School District (FWISD), the Fort Worth Chamber, the Fort Worth Hispanic Chamber, and the Fort Worth Metropolitan Black Chamber and features programs that start in Pre-K and continue through 12th grade. FWISD also has its own program, FWISD Gold Seal Programs and Schools of Choice, a two-pronged approach that provides students the opportunity to take part in industry-driven programs of study, either as part of a curriculum in standard schools or in non-standard schools such as early college, STEM, or Montessori. Additionally, FWISD maintains the Department of Community and Strategic Partnerships, which supports student achievement by nurturing relationships between schools and local businesses and organizations.

Public Utility Programs in Austin and San Antonio, TX

In response to the impending wave of retirements and subsequent worker shortage, two Texas metropolitan areas have taken an aggressive approach to workforce development by creating and sustaining initiatives specifically for K-12 students. In 2017, Austin’s publicly owned electric utility, Austin Energy (AE), launched EVs for Schools as part of its communitywide EVs for Everyone initiative. Through the program, AE dedicates one full time employee to visit local campuses and educate students about electric vehicle science and technology and environmental responsibility.

CPS Energy (CPS), San Antonio’s municipally owned utility, has also made a commitment to K-12 education. The utility offers three paid internship programs to students entering their junior year of high school, each of which is focused on different career pathways within the energy sector. Students can choose from programs devoted to distribution services and operations, professional careers in public utilities, and the pursuit of a technical or skilled career, such as welding, manufacturing, information technology and other trades.

Statewide Initiatives in North Dakota

Knowing that demand for technology skills will increase in the future, North Dakota’s governor announced the K-20W Initiative in 2019. K-20W, which encompasses the entire education system from kindergarten through and into the workforce, is a sweeping effort to bring computer science and cybersecurity education and workforce training to the entire state. Already, nearly 40 public and private sector partners have committed to providing resources and training to teachers, students, and administrators to reach the program’s goal of “Every Student. Every School. Cyber Educated.” National Integrated Cyber Education Research Center, Microsoft TEALS (Technology Education and Literacy in Schools),, and the National Center for Women & Information Technology also joined the initiative to ensure coverage across both urban and rural areas of the state. That same year, the state’s Department of Public Instruction implemented computer and cybersecurity science standards for K-12 curriculums, which is the first effort in the nation to specifically emphasize cybersecurity in science education.

[1] Lund, Susan, James Manyika, Liz Hilton Segel, André Dua, Bryan Hancock, Scott Rutherford, and Brent Macon, The future of work in America: People and places, today and tomorrow (McKinsey Global Institute, 2019, p. 6)

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