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posted: 5/16/2014 5:01 AM

New learning standards key to skilled workforce

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  • Sandra Westlund-Deenihan

    Sandra Westlund-Deenihan

By Sandra Westlund-Deenihan

Good talent is hard to find. One of the greatest ongoing challenges facing manufacturing is the lack of a skilled workforce. As a small-business owner and manufacturer, I know that having skilled workers is imperative to the success of my business.

While there is a great need for skilled manufacturing employees, today's students are lacking in basic understanding of math, science and traditional communications skills. To ensure all students are prepared for success after graduation, we need clear, consistent guidelines for the tools students should be armed with upon entering the workforce. That is what we can achieve through the new Common Core State Standards.

I make this statement knowing misconceptions about Common Core have begun to surface. It is important the facts about what the standards really accomplish make their way through the rhetoric so folks understand what Common Core offers everyone involved in educating our children, as well as the employers who will eventually welcome the next generation into the workforce.

First, Common Core State Standards are not a national curriculum or a national mandate. The standards were created by states for states and define what students need to know; they do not dictate how teachers should teach or how students should learn. Second, the standards provide clarity and consistency in what is expected of student learning across the country providing all students with an equal opportunity for an education, regardless of where they live. Finally, the Common Core State Standards in math and English/language arts describe what every U.S. student should know to prepare for success after high school, whether that student goes on to college or directly enters the workplace. At the end of the day, the standards establish clear, consistent guidelines for what our children should know while also measuring "real world" skills -- like critical thinking and problem solving -- important skills we all need.

As a third-generation manufacturer, I have seen the workforce change dramatically. There are fewer workers available with the skills required to be productive in advanced manufacturing -- and the required skill levels for workers are continually rising. Many shop-room floors, including my own, have loyal employees who have worked there for decades. Workforce challenges are presented as these loyal workers retire and skilled entry-level candidates are difficult to find.

Today's generation of students are entering the workforce lacking basic skills in math, science, technology and even communications. Meanwhile, jobs are becoming more technologically savvy, require expert training in equipment and must adapt to an advanced workplace to meet the needs of a global marketplace. The bottom line is that if we as employers can't find quality applicants for our jobs, that affects our business and our ability to stay competitive. It is something businesses are very concerned about.

Common Core standards emphasize the skills and knowledge students will need to be competitive across the country and in the global marketplace. The standards are aligned with the skills employers and colleges are looking for -- - ensuring our students are ready for college and/or careers when they finish high school. Students with a strong educational foundation will have better employment opportunities, regardless of the career or vocational path they choose. This is not just about educating students to fill our positions -- it's also about making sure our children have the opportunity and the tools to get a quality education, have viable employment options and possess the ability to achieve their dreams.

• Sandra Westlund-Deenihan is CEO of Schaumburg-based Quality Float Works Inc.

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