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Opinion: Educators are key to shaping tomorrow’s workforce

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As I begin my 35th year as an educator, I find it very easy to shift into the strategies and tactics that encapsulate my assignment to help students find joy in moving from ignorance to a deep knowledge base. On the other hand, life in this vocation can feel like a serpentine defense through a crossfire of oppositional agendas and the demand for return on investment.

When these challenges and others in the world of education threaten to get the best of me, I must pause and think about my purpose. Every day I have the privilege of nudging learners closer to responsible ownership of this planet. So, what do they really need?

Much conversation across the airwaves of higher education and career readiness is around the gap between what students are taught and the competencies that graduates bring to the organizations that recruit and hire them. Traditionally, higher education has been the ticket to upward mobility. The statistics are often presented in monetary values, even as graduates speak of the challenges of paying off their loans, an investment of time and energy for personal growth. At the end of their time in school, most students expect their investment to yield the tools that will help them find a workplace that suits them.

The National Association of Colleges and Employers identified eight competencies that graduates should bring to the table. Each of these is learned not exclusively in the classroom or lab, but also in the extracurricular experiences and day-to-day interactions with peers and educators. Simply put, employers are looking for graduates to possess the following:

  1. A mindset for lifelong learning, motivated to develop holistically as a person and as a professional.
  2. The ability to effectively communicate with others regardless of agreement with perspectives.
  3. The capability to solve problems by gathering relevant data, listening to the angles and attending to the cultural context.
  4. Modeling care and respect for multiple cultural perspectives as well as an openness to new ways of thinking.
  5. Inspiring others through ethical decision making, encouragement and positive expectations.
  6. Recognition that personal diligence and dedication raises the credibility of the organization.
  7. An understanding that collaboration with others creates energy, adds to the collective knowledge base and brings vitality to the organization.
  8. Utilizing technology for both efficiency with resources and effectiveness with people.

As I attempt to coach others in these competencies, I must look in the mirror. How am I doing? Am I competent enough to be a healthy contributor to my organization? Rather than allow anxiety of what I am not fill the air, I challenge myself and my students with some thoughts: What does your best work look like? When have you been able to say, “I could not do X any better than that!” or “When I worked on that team, we accomplished that mission, but it was the engagement and collaboration that altered my paradigm.”

One striking statistic I quote to my students is that one out of one people die. It is true. I only get a handful of laps around the sun, so I must make the most of them. What I have learned, I am responsible to impart to the next cohort. Terminal degrees and top of the food chain expertise should not give us a false sense that we have reached the end of the internet. In contrast, it should give us the conviction of a mantle of responsibility that we are to hand off to those who follow so they can travel farther up the road with it.

As educators, we equip future generations of learners to inherit their place in society. This is an essential role, and our culture looks to us to make sure these students are prepared. By returning to these core competencies, as well as recognizing, encouraging and maximizing our students’ innate strengths, we ensure they will leave our classrooms and universities empowered to leave their mark on the world.

Jon Spence is the chief academic officer at Evangel University. He can be reached at


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