A new study from ACT shows that high school students who plan to enter workforce training programs after they graduate need academic skills similar to those of college-bound students. Findings show that the math and reading skills needed to be ready for success in workforce training programs are comparable to those needed for success in the first year of college.
Because of this, ACT recommends that all high school students experience a common academic program—one that prepares them for both college and workforce training, regardless of their post-graduation plans.
For the study, ACT looked at occupations classified by the Occupational Information Network (O*NET) that:
- do not require a four-year college degree
- offer the potential for career advancement
- are projected to increase in the future
- are likely to offer a wage sufficient for a family of four
These "Zone 3" occupations—which include electricians, construction workers, upholsterers, plumbers, etc.—typically require some combination of vocational training and on-the-job experience or an associate's degree.
Median Annual Salary by O*NET Job Zone
Self-sufficient wage based on median recommended budget for a family of 4 (two parents, two children) averaged across 2,600 U.S. communities (EPI). Poverty level provided by U.S. Dept. of Heath and Human Services (2006) [O*NET Consortium - Production Database, n.d.]
ACT then compared academic skill levels of profiled Zone 3 jobs from its WorkKeys program with the College Readiness Benchmarks established for its flagship college admission and placement exam, the ACT test. The results show that the levels of math and reading skills needed for success in the first year of college are comparable to those needed by high school graduates to enter the vast majority (90 percent) of these profiled jobs.
The study results convey an important message to U.S. high school educators and high school students: We should be ensuring that all high school students experience a common academic program, one that prepares them for both postsecondary education and workforce training programs. Though the context within which these important skills are taught and tested may differ for students with different goals, the level of expectation for all students should be the same.
The report offers a number of recommendations to policymakers:
- Establish a statewide commitment that all students will be prepared for college and workforce training programs when they graduate from high school.
- Require that all students take a rigorous core course program in high school.
- Hold schools and states accountable for preparing all students for college and workforce training through rigorous core courses.
- Ensure that state standards reflect the skills needed for college and workforce training readiness for all students.
- Begin measuring student progress with aligned assessments as early as the eighth grade to monitor progress, make appropriate interventions, and maximize the number of high school graduates who are ready for college and workforce training programs.
- Use college and workforce training readiness as a prerequisite for entry into funded training or development programs and offer remediation for those who do not meet established expectations.