Creating a Generation of Lifelong Learners

Demand is growing for relevant and rigorous learning environments that encourage students to build critical thinking skills, create and collaborate with others and apply what they have learned in a real-world context.

Regardless of what students do after graduation, they must have the capacity and a desire to become lifelong learners.


Keys to success

To move toward the goal of creating career-ready, lifelong learners, successful education systems share several characteristics:

  1. Deeper learning: There is a level of rigor and depth of knowledge that is essential for each student to be successful in college and career.
  2. Learner agency: Students have a level of control over their autonomy and a voice to drive their own learning.
  3. Wide array of stakeholders: District, school and teacher leaders, community, higher education and business representatives, parents and students are included to ensure a community-wide commitment to the vision of transformation. This creates intersectionality and alignment in the use of time, money and resources.
  4. Extended learning opportunities: Students are involved in critical thinking around real-world problems that connect with their interests and passions. Teachers work with community representatives to co-design the experiences and learning, both in and out of the school day.


Sharing best practices

Many local school districts are working on these efforts within their buildings. We discussed their strategies at our last West Michigan Career Readiness Conference, which drew hundreds of K-12 educators, administrators, counselors, business and higher education from all 13 counties in the region. The next conference, June 11, will offer more opportunities to share best practices and work alongside business and industry to co-create career readiness experiences.


The practices of Career Tech Education (CTE) also offers multiple examples of leading strategies. While not available to all students, CTE provides a model for an education approach that connects students to real-world experiences.


CTE programs offer the opportunity for students to experience work-based learning, on-the-job experiences, internships, apprenticeships, etc. Soft skills are infused within the curriculum, giving an upper hand when applying for jobs right out of high school (or during high school). Career Tech Centers also have articulated agreements with post-secondary institutions, allowing students to earn credit as they complete the program. CTE students often have earned more college credits than non-CTE students.


Earlier this month, the U.S Chamber of Commerce released a report on “Hiring in the modern talent marketplace,” which noted that one of the top priorities for HR professionals (61%) was to “maintain or improve education and workforce partnerships.” Two of the suggestions highlighted by HR professionals highlight the role of CTE:

  • More educational/CTE programs to build talent pipelines
  • Improved alignment between skills and competences taught in educational/CTE programs and in-demand skills and competences needed in the workforce.


Career readiness for all

Unfortunately, career technical education is not universally accessible. A U of M analysis of CTE programs in Michigan showed that “some racial groups may have substantively differential access to CTE.” Black and Hispanic students are less likely than their white counterparts to enroll in CTE, however they are just as likely to participate if offered within the confines of their schools.

To provide equitable opportunities for students across West Michigan, there must be a continued emphasis on building career ready students from all stakeholders.

Many K-12 districts in West Michigan are leading the way in this, with some implementing career readiness efforts starting as early as elementary school. One example is Northview Public School’s MiGPS, which develops employability skills among students from middle to high school.

West Michigan teachers and administrators also have formed the West Michigan Career Readiness Conference, aimed at making sure “every student is college or career ready upon graduation.” Watch for more details about attending the June 11 conference.

Talent 2025 supports these efforts because a passion and capacity for lifelong learning sets up students for lifelong success.


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