An Interview with Abby Smith, Team PA’s Director of Education and Workforce:

Abby, you’ve been working on the career readiness work for over a year now. What are the big takeaways? What do we know, and what do we still need to find out?
First, we know that great things are happening throughout our commonwealth related to career readiness. People have come out of the woodwork to tell us about some of their projects and success stories. That said, formally, we don’t have any of that information in one place. Other than anecdotes passed from one person to the next, we simply don’t have a concrete idea of where we stand as a state with regards to student career readiness. Our Career and Technical Education system, which many people still refer to as vocational education, does collect and aggregate information about the students enrolled in those programs of study, but that only accounts for about 12% of high school students.

Is this where the survey comes in?
Yes. We just released a comprehensive survey to every school district, intermediate unit, and charter school across the state. Our plan is to gather statewide and regional information about Pennsylvania’s strengths and needs when it comes to career readiness, which we’ll compile into a report this spring. We released a video that accompanies the survey to provide context to the school districts, which you can see here.

How will the information you gather be helpful?
Once we have a better picture of our current career readiness work across the state, we can better tailor our statewide strategy and raise the necessary funds to put that plan in place.

You mentioned a statewide strategy. What is the overarching plan, and to what end?
Ultimately, this work is about aligning our education system and our workforce system. To get there, we’re focusing on four main goals. First, we need to create a leadership entity to address career readiness. Second, we’ll put in place a statewide communications and engagement strategy. Third, we need to establish career readiness metrics so we can begin to measure and benchmark our progress. And fourth, we’ll support and expand the work that’s already happening in schools, districts, and regions across the state. Once all is said and done, we want to make sure that students have access to careers that match with their interests and skills, while simultaneously meeting the workforce needs of our employers. It’s a mutually beneficial, win-win scenario, but it does require a long-term strategy with a lot of different partners working together.

Who are some of the key partners in this work?
We’re working closely with a number of state agencies, but in particular the Pennsylvania Departments of Labor & Industry and Education. We’re also working with the Pennsylvania Association of Intermediate Units (PAIU), which oversees all of the intermediate units across the state. There are a number of other organizations and individuals involved, too. In many ways, this work has just revealed how many champions of career readiness are currently working around the state, and we’re just helping to coordinate the many moving parts and give everyone a collective voice at the state level to move it forward together.