The workforce of 2019 looks vastly different from that of 1999, and by 2039, the change will undoubtedly be even more dramatic. For many students, the PreK-12 classroom experience isn’t keeping pace with shifting workforce needs. Preparing students for success in the future workforce is a community effort, supported not just by parents and educators, but also by local business leaders.

Despite the changing demands of the workforce, U.S. classroom structure and focus have remained largely the same for generations. As a result, we aren’t fully equipping students with the skills they’ll need for the future, and the current talent shortage reflects that. Forty-six percent of U.S. employers reported difficulty filling jobs in 2018 due to a talent shortage, including a lack of both technical and transportable skills, according to a survey by Manpower Group. Our education system must continue to improve while expanding access to highly engaging and relevant learning for all students. This improvement and equity of access is essential to closing the opportunity gap and preparing all students for career success.

How, then, should we change the classroom experience? For years, the American education system has relied largely on traditional, teacher-centric formats. However, studies show hands-on, problem-based, applied learning is more effective for long-term retention and skill development, as well as learner satisfaction. This means we must reevaluate our notion of what effective classrooms look like.

Throughout my career in education and as chief engagement officer of Project Lead The Way, I’ve seen firsthand the effectiveness of student-centered, hands-on, project-based learning. This approach teaches students the real-world knowledge and technical skills needed to succeed and includes important partnerships between schools and their communities. More classrooms would benefit from this relevant connection, but this shift won’t come about without meaningful partnership from business leaders who understand the skills gap and can help educators make the case for greater improvement and collaboration.

This is an exciting time in PreK-12 education, and there are many ways businesses can make meaningful contributions to their local schools. This includes forming relationships with school districts, schools, and individual teachers to understand what would be most beneficial or of interest to them, as well as other forms of involvement and support such as mentoring and presentations on careers and workforce trends.

When businesses and school districts partner to create internships or other work-based learning experiences, it allows students to understand the reality of the workforce and how the skills they’re learning in class can be applied in the real world. In this way, businesses can make meaningful connections with their communities while expanding student understanding of career opportunities.

The business community can also play a critical role in ensuring classroom curriculum and related learning activities match the skillsets students will need for future career success. In some cases, the business community can provide grants or access to state-of-the-art equipment to support relevant and applied student learning. By forming a working relationship with local districts, business leaders can be sure students are prepared for the work taking place in their organizations every day.

As Indiana moves to more fully prepare our students for future success, we must address the changes needed in our classrooms and the opportunity gap so many students and teachers face. Our local businesses can, and must, be a critical part of our students’ career readiness.

David Dimmett is senior vice president and chief engagement officer of the Indianapolis-based education nonprofit Project Lead The Way. Discover how you and your organization can create a future-ready workforce by clicking here.

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