National Meeting for Adult Education State Directors: Leading Transformational Change

The first day of the 2013 National Meeting for Adult Education State Directors largely focused on what is needed to achieve truly transformational change in adult education.  The case for transforming our adult education system was made clear during the afternoon panel discussion, moderated by OVAE Deputy Assistant Secretary Johan, that included OVAE Assistant Secretary Brenda Dann-Messier; Roberto Rodriguez, Special Assistant to the President for Education; and Mona Mourshed, Director for McKinsey & Company.

All three panelists emphasized the moral imperative and economic necessity of this work.  As Roberto Rodriguez noted, “Our efforts to build a strong economic engine that can drive our economy moving forward really depends on our work to build stronger education and training pathways for individuals to develop the skills and levels of literacy that they need to be successful in our economy…we cannot afford to leave any adult learners behind.”

Assistant Secretary Dann-Messier emphasized the dire consequences our society will face if we do not achieve this kind of transformational change to serve more adult learners: “I am afraid we will have a permanent underclass in our society that is more or less permanently disconnected from the labor market, which will have tremendous social and economic costs for our society.”

Mona Mourshed noted the challenge of educating young adults to transition successfully to the workforce is an acute one felt in many education systems around the world, evidenced by the fact that more than 75 million young people globally are unemployed and more than twice that number are underemployed.  McKinsey & Company recently completed a multi-country research project examining the often weak connection between employment and education.  The McKinsey & Company study focused on youth and young adults aged 15-29, which includes a significant part of the adult learner population targeted by AEFLA-funded programs. Mona Mourshed summarized a number of the key findings of this research during the panel discussion:

  • First, educators and employers often operate in parallel universes, and there is very little agreement between them on the work readiness of graduates.
  • Second, many young adults (over 40% of those surveyed by McKinsey & Company) feel they lack sufficient information to make an informed decision regarding what they should study and where they should study.
  • Third, many young adults and employers are relatively disappointed in how well postsecondary education has prepared individuals to succeed in the labor market.
  • Fourth, not all young adults are in the same position when it comes to work readiness skills, and the interventions required to increase the employability skills of different subgroups of students are often very different.  Likewise, some employers are already meaningfully engaged with education institutions in designing education and training programs, while others are not.

All three panelists agreed education and training programs, those aimed at youth as well as adults, need to more fully engage employers and other key partners to transform the learning experience for their students and provide them with opportunities to earn credentials with real labor market value that lead to careers in high-demand fields and provide family-sustaining wages.