A New Network for New Skills

Tuesday, October 20, 2020
Heather Justice
Senior Director

Earlier today, JPMorgan Chase announced that six U.S. cities – Boston, Columbus, Dallas, Indianapolis and Nashville, as well as previously-announced Denver – will receive career readiness investments as part of the firm’s $75 million global commitment to better prepare young people for the jobs of today and tomorrow. These five-year philanthropic investments and policy solutions are part of both the firm’s New Skills at Work initiative to prepare people for the future of work and their new $30 billion commitment to advance racial equity and drive an inclusive economic recovery.

With a $7 million commitment in each city, JPMorgan Chase’s global career readiness initiative will help communities develop equitable, demand-driven career pathways and related policy solutions that give underserved students access to higher education and real-world work experiences that lead to high-wage, in-demand jobs.

Education Strategy Group is proud to be a lead partner with JPMorgan Chase on this groundbreaking initiative, building on our experience supporting similar efforts in other states and communities across the country. Collaborating with Advance CTE, ESG is coordinating the collective work of the New Skills network as well as providing coaching and technical assistance to the six sites. We are excited to offer thought partnership and boots-on-the-ground support to ensure that sites have the capacity to implement their ambitious plans for scaling career pathways and work-based learning, and building seamless transitions into postsecondary and the workforce. 

Recognizing that high-quality options for students and families are more important than ever in this challenging era, we have designed and delivered new approaches to help participating sites assess their needs, identify opportunities for growth, and develop action plans that will lead to real impact. 

Starting Points: A Deep Assessment

The six participating sites were chosen based on their commitment to closing equity gaps and their proven track records of innovation in creating pathways into college and careers. Earlier this year, all six sites convened teams of leaders from K-12, community and technical colleges, four-year college and universities, business and industry, state K-12 and postsecondary education agencies, and community partners to rigorously assess the quality, accessibility, and impact of current pathways. 

The site teams used three new tools to assess their current career pathways and dig into inequities within their systems. 

– A data capacity tool addressed which data were collected across partners, how the data were shared and publicly reported, and whether or not data were used in decision-making. Data points included pathways enrollment, persistence, and completion, FAFSA completion, industry-recognized credential attainment, ACT/SAT benchmarks, dual enrollment, work-based learning, articulated credit, apprenticeships, and transitions into postsecondary and the workforce.

– The equity analysis tool populated dashboards (based on the same data points as the equity analysis tool) to show how many and which students, compared to their total student population, were enrolled in, persisted in, and completed pathways. It also examined the alignment of pathways to in-demand industry sectors and looked at participation and success rates within work-based learning experiences, early postsecondary opportunities, credential attainment, and placement for community college and university partners. 

– The cross-sector self-assessment tool asked stakeholders to weigh in on their status of building and scaling career pathways, work-based learning, seamless postsecondary transitions, and equity. This was designed to provide insight across different partners on their implementation, quality, and scale of career pathways and assisted sites in identifying their greatest strengths and highest-priority needs. 

The Findings

The results of the needs assessment process were illuminating. Across participating sites, one in 13 high school students are currently enrolled in career pathways. However, there are significant persistence and completion challenges. Only 39 percent of those enrolled successfully complete their pathways, and this number is even lower for students of color, with the average completion rate for Black students hovering at just 29 percent. 

These challenges continue into higher education. Participating sites’ needs assessments found that just 16 percent of Black students and 19 percent of students overall who enroll in a postsecondary career pathway successfully complete that pathway. Student success in high-quality pathways offers a path to economic mobility and opportunity; when considered in the context that 73 percent of students enrolled at postsecondary institutions in the participating sites are economically disadvantaged, the urgency of addressing these low completion rates is even more apparent. 

The results of the needs assessment drove the creation of ambitious action plans designed to scale equitable access to and completion of high-quality career pathways from K-12 into postsecondary and the workforce. The plans build upon identified strengths and address the inequities uncovered as a result of the self-assessment process. Sites will use the action plan to continue implementation throughout the five years of the grant. 

Charting the Course: Common Goals and Challenges

Though the sites take slightly different approaches to the work based on the identified needs of their communities and partners, there are many commonalities across their goals. Working together as a network will help them to share resources, address common challenges, and spread best practices. 

One particularly clear shared priority across sites is the goal of moving from an access agenda into a completion and attainment agenda. While access to high-quality pathways is certainly critical, it is not enough to realize the promise of economic mobility. Partners across the K-12 and postsecondary spectrum must share ownership of the imperative to increase successful pathway completion. Furthermore, pathways should not be limiting and should include stackable routes to bachelor’s degrees with supports to help students pursue them. The participation of four-year institutions in the efforts across New Skills sites ensures that pathways are not just a direct route to community college, but braid together multiple entry and exit points for a students’ educational journey.  

We have also heard loud and clear from participating sites that data is king. A substantial portion of the work of the next several years will entail addressing systems-level issues to better obtain, share, interpret, and apply data. This includes information on job placement, pathway-specific persistence and completion, as well as following students from K-12 into postsecondary education. 

An additional area in which more intentional cross-sector coordination is needed is advising. Too often, K-12 and postsecondary advising are disconnected, creating navigational challenges for students. New Skills sites plan to address the need for a seamless handoff of students from high school to their postsecondary institution of choice. This work can never start too early; advising as far back as middle school can play a major role in getting students the information they need to succeed. 

Finally, there is recognition across the network that work to advance equity is both essential and difficult. The sites have made a shared commitment to vision-setting, training, and ongoing conversation as well embracing concrete, data-driven approaches to improving outcomes for student sub-populations. Sites also recognize that social capital and personal and professional networks play an enormous role in student success — and too often, in perpetuating equity gaps. The pandemic has made in-person opportunities for students to build networks (through such options as work-based learning experiences) exponentially more difficult. Sites will work together to develop new strategies to close gaps and create equitable opportunity, particularly in this unique and challenging environment. 

The Future of the Network

Taken together, the states in the New Skills ready network account for 20 percent of the nation’s GDP and 4.3 percent of the student population among the nation’s 100 largest districts. The potential positive impact of this work on individual lives and local economies is enormous, particularly considering the collective power of the network to move the work farther and faster together. Furthermore, the active participation of state leaders and proof points from early efforts demonstrate the potential to scale effective strategies beyond the individual sites. The network is trailblazing a path for others to follow. 

ESG is looking forward to the engagement ahead and excited about the potential of this work to have a widespread positive impact on districts, schools, students, and families across the country.