No politician is likely to lose an election by focusing too heavily on creating jobs and boosting the workforce, which may help explain why legislation that seeks to connect education and career paths has become so popular in statehouses.
This year, 165 bills addressing the connection between education and the workforce were introduced in 31 states. Twenty-seven of those proposals eventually made it into law in 2018, according to the Education Commission of the States.
That represents a huge jump from a few years ago. In 2012, only about 30 pieces of legislation on workforce development and education were introduced, said Lexi Anderson, a policy analyst at ECS, a Denver-based research organization.
The majority of proposals brought forward are focused on connecting workforce development with postsecondary preparation, said Anderson, who authored a recent post on the tide of legislation. But several of the proposals are also trying to improve career preparation, the availability of apprenticeships, and similar efforts in K-12, too.
Some states, for instance, have approved proposals to ensure that students receive credit toward high school graduation if they complete work apprenticeships. Others states have either considered or given their blessing to legislation encouraging students to be introduced to potential careers in high school or middle school. (In some cases, states may be doing this outside of legislation, through work undertaken by state agencies or other entities, she said.)
In addition, many states are taking steps to move information on the workforce and K-12 students within statewide longitudinal data systems. Twenty-seven states already include workforce information within those data systems and many expect the data to encompass the K-12 to college continuum, said Anderson.
Only two of the 27 states that include workforce information in their data systems do not include K-12 within the mix, she said.
Laying a Path Through Data
States’ interest in overhauling their data systems has taken off as they have grown more focused on addressing specific economic needs. One area of concern is the disconnect between strong state economies and broad employment, on the one hand, and the high number of unfilled jobs in various industries, on the other, the ECS official observed.
“A lot of the data pieces we’re seeing are trying to get at that,” Anderson said. “It’s a new mind shift toward looking at the actual needs of the state.”
There are also challenges for states in creating those comprehensive data systems. One is the difficulty in keeping tabs on students and workers who may fulfill their career aspirations in different industries, but in jobs located out of state, Anderson said.
ECS has sought to provide state officials with insights about policies that link education and the workforce. In an earlier report, ECS notes that work-based learning does not refer solely to internships or apprenticeships, but rather to a “continuum of work-related experiences—from early grades through high school and beyond.”
Education Week explored connections between schools and the labor market in a special report published earlier this year. The report, “Schools and the Future of Work,” looked at how a variety of complex factors—from artificial intelligence to automation—could upend students’ job prospects and what schools and policymakers can do to prepare for the shift.
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