Reformer ToolboxLogin

CancelLost your password?

How Can Policymakers Prepare Students for the Future of Work?

• Quentin Suffren


In honor of Labor Day earlier this week, we are diving into our blog archives to revisit a post on XQ Institute’s report High School & the Future of Work. This continues to be a topic of conversation across America, and many states are beginning to implement some of the following policy solutions to better prepare students for successful careers. 

State policy can be a powerful driver and support for local innovation in education. This is one of the core principles of ExcelinEd’s work and partnership with states over the last decade. It’s also a major theme of XQ Institute’s new report High School & the Future of Work, which calls on policymakers to help communities transform high schools and better prepare students for success in a shifting economy.

Their report calls out a number of startling statistics, some we have called attention to in the past and others that are new.

  • 47% of American jobs will be impacted by automation.
  • 4 out of 5 CEOs say that skills gaps in creativity and problem-solving make hiring difficult.
  • 99% of jobs created during the economic recovery went to workers with postsecondary education or training.

The Need for Change Is Urgent and Overdue

While the workplace continues to evolve at a rapid pace, high school has remained largely unchanged for decades. Worse, it’s simply not working for many students. While 84 percent of high school students want to attend college, less than half graduate adequately prepared for postsecondary success. Worse still, high schoolers seem to know it’s not working. Just 32 percent of 11th graders surveyed said they learned something of interest in the past week, and over half of high school seniors feel their math work is “too easy.”

Schools Must Connect Students with Real-World Demands

It doesn’t have to be this way. As evidence, XQ Institute’s report highlights schools like Crosstown High in Tennessee, Grand Rapids Museum School in Michigan and Purdue Polytechnic in Indiana that have reimagined the high school experience. These schools offer rigorous, real-world instruction in high-demand fields like computer science, technology and design, and advanced manufacturing. They are doing more than just being innovative; they are solving real problems in their communities and empowering students to invest in ideas and projects larger than themselves.

As noted, scaling such local innovation requires support and action from state policymakers. Among the report’s recommendations are several we care deeply about, including:

  • Creating state innovation pilots and programs that give local schools greater flexibility or remove obstacles to personalize learning and redesign student experiences.
  • Redefining “seat time” definitions to acknowledge that learning occurs at different paces, in places other than a traditional classroom, and through a broader range of demonstration options.
  • Providing greater access and opportunity for students to earn college credit through AP, IB or dual enrollment courses.
  • Modernizing CTE by aligning it to in-demand, higher wage careers and offering meaningful, work-based learning opportunities.
  • Supporting teachers by providing them high quality instructional materials and personalizing professional learning through micro-credentialing and mastery-based learning.

There’s more in the report to chew on – it’s well worth a read. But for policymakers, these recommendations represent important steps to consider to help ensure their states’ future includes a skilled workforce and thriving communities.

The future of this work is now.

About the author

Quentin Suffren

As Innovation Policy Managing Director, Quentin oversees Personalized Learning, College and Career Pathways and Course Access policies at ExcelinEd. Previously, Quentin served as executive director of the college, career, and military preparation at the Texas Education Agency. He also held leadership positions with Amplify Education, an education consulting and technology firm, TNTP, and The Learning Institute. Quentin began his career as a high school English teacher. He earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees at the University of Memphis.