The Role of Data in COVID-19 Recovery: The Workforce Perspective

The Role of Data in COVID-19 Recovery: The Workforce Perspective

This spring’s interrupted learning will affect students in the long term; educators and policymakers are rightfully concerned about how to make up for time lost during school closures. How will school closures influence students’ longer-term outcomes? Will high school graduates who were planning to enroll in college be able to do so and what additional supports might they need to be successful?

With so many questions, DQC once again turned to its bench of experts to explore how data can help leaders answer these questions and best prepare to get students back on track for success. In this blog post, DQC’s Abby Cohen shares insights from her conversation with DQC Board Member Tony Marshall, president of Innovative Systems Group.

Question #1: With so many questions about how the COVID-19 crisis will affect students’ long-term outcomes, what indicators or types of data should we be looking to?

Marshall: We need to understand how students and families are feeling about going back to school and the impact of the crisis on the higher education landscape. For example, the Department of Labor is expecting 350 colleges/universities to close as a result of the pandemic. The downstream effect of that will significantly impact students. And for colleges and universities that are able to stay open, what offerings will be available to students who can and do enroll? I was talking to a student recently who only needs two classes to graduate but those classes aren’t being offered online by their current school. System leaders need more detailed information about their students’ needs so they are prepared to support them, and students need information about their options so they can make the most informed decision possible about the right next step for them.

Question #2: A recent survey found that more than half of students will probably face college affordability issues next year. What does this mean for non-college pathways after high school and how can the K–12 system prepare for potential shifts? What data could help inform this response?

Marshall: The COVID-19 crisis has underscored a longstanding need to better prepare students for the workforce. Too often this is an either/or conversation—either education or job training—when it should be a conversation about both. We have to focus on giving students practical training while they’re in the K–12 environment, which will require more interaction and collaboration between industry and education systems. We have to work with industry to help young people understand what skills they’ll need when they enter the workforce and then those learning opportunities need to be available to students in parallel with their education. Leaders across government, education, and industry need to work more closely together so that students are educated and trained for the jobs that are actually out there. This level of collaboration is a hallmark of the high-performing apprenticeship programs that we see in other countries.

There is a natural inclination to think that apprenticeship is antithetical to education. That’s not necessarily true. The idea is that one actually accelerates the other. About 60 percent of apprentices at Innovative Systems Group have or will go on to work on an advanced degree. We lose too many children when we don’t provide hands-on work opportunities. The education process becomes relevant when you see the benefits of it. We cannot subscribe to this idea that the presence of apprenticeships means the absence of an advanced degree. They both work better when they’re used together.

Question #3: The availability of high-quality state data on career and technical education (CTE)/apprenticeship programming is lacking. Why should states prioritize the collection and reporting of CTE/apprenticeship program and outcome data, especially as state agencies are staring down a budget crisis?

Marshall: COVID-19 is going to disrupt the workforce but employers will still need talent. We need to make sure students are leaving high school with options and addressing this need will require us to strengthen CTE offerings for K–12 students that align with a state or region’s workforce needs. CTE programs should be expanded beyond the industries we typically think of when we talk about CTE to include things like graphic design, computer programming, project management, etc. These are all part of the new economy and they need to be reflected in the opportunities offered in schools. In order to do this, we need an accurate picture of what programs are currently offered in which schools as well as the most high-demand industries within the state and region so that schools can focus their limited resources on the most relevant course offerings. Having a strong workforce is central to a strong economy so leaders should prioritize getting the data they need to make sure students are on the best path possible.

Question #4: What else is top of mind for you right now related to the value of data for informing recovery efforts?

Marshall: It must be understood that any move to apprenticeships or more robust CTE programming will involve a culture change. Most parents are excited about the fact that their child is going to a top-tier college and less impressed if the same child is part of a top-tier apprenticeship. This change in mindset will require an education process for parents since they are the most influential aspect of a student’s course of action. Families are making these kinds of decisions right now under challenging circumstances. Helping them understand their student’s options and making sure they have the information they need to make informed decisions is key.