Rethink School Part 2 – The School Role

The jobs of today look different than the jobs of yesterday, and as technology evolves they will also look different than those of tomorrow. If our focus is on preparing students for careers in today’s world we might be leaving them woefully unprepared for the jobs of tomorrow’s world.

In the U.S. alone between 39 and 73 million jobs stand to be automated by 2030 (Vincent, 2017), with those focused in creative and cognitive jobs increasing while middle and low-skill occupations decline. This would suggest that schools should focus on creative and cognitive skills such skills as reason, logic, resourcefulness, imagination and innovation, to best prepare students for future careers.

Unfortunately, incorporating such a curriculum is labor intensive and costly for an industry that is, by many standards, already underfunded. Compounding the issue is the fact that creative and cognitive curriculums are untested, meaning little data for or against these programs exists.

Many schools recognize the disconnect between the available curriculum and required business skills, and are trying to build programs and establish partnerships to bridge that gap. Solutions range from apprenticeships and college credit programs to strategic partnerships designed to integrate real-world experiences into the school curriculum. With these new models, the schools of tomorrow may look nothing like the schools of today.

Apprenticeships and Internships

To prepare students for the future of work some schools are incorporating creative solutions into their existing operations, while others are building an entirely new model from the ground up. Those that are looking to complement their current curriculum often turn to apprenticeships and internships as a way to offer students the real world experiences that might further their professional success.

Roughly 91% of apprentices find employment after completing their program, many with either college credit or a degree and a starting salary upwards of $51,000 (Salengo, 2017). This is because apprenticeships are driven by local employers focused on skills needed in a given region, making it easier to transition into a full time position after the work program concludes. Apprenticeship students are not locked into a career path based on the program they complete, rather, students learn real-world skills that can be applied to any industry while they are exploring potential careers.

Contrary to popular belief, apprenticeships and internship programs are not limited to the construction or service trades. There are opportunities in a variety of industries including finance, computer programming, sales, marketing and even education. While students are exploring potential career paths and learning professional skills, companies are training their incoming workforce with the skills they most desire in an employee, such as communication, problem-solving and teamwork.

For an example of apprenticeship in action we can look to Switzerland, where two thirds of Swiss students participate in one of 250 government-approved programs (DeVoss, 2018). Many current CEO’s of Swiss companies got their start in an apprenticeship, proving that companies can play an active role in cultivating the next wave of talent.

Big Picture Learning, a network of over 50 schools nationwide that recently received funding from the Gates Foundation, is another example of the apprenticeship model at work in the U.S. Students in this school attend a job two days a week, and spend their class time on project-based (PBL) activities that correlate to that job. Success is tracked through portfolios and quarterly presentations where students showcase and quantify the work done in front of their classmates.

Colorado recently launched an initiative to make apprenticeships/internships available either as an alternative for or in addition to college. Beginning in high school students can attain jobs in financial services, information technology, healthcare or manufacturing. The program will ultimately be available to 20,000 students in the next ten years.

New Models of Education

Real world experience is an attractive attribute to offer students, but apprenticeships and internships aren’t the only way to prepare them for what they will face in their career.

Schools nationwide have partnered with businesses to incorporate their input on curriculum that will offer students the greatest chance of professional success. These schools may focus on a specific industry or skill set that appeals to their founders and financial backers, or may even be an extension of the company itself.  

The Incubator School in Los Angeles, CA focuses on entrepreneurship, and as such mimics popular incubator programs designed to help startup companies gain traction. Students here learn entrepreneurial skills such as product development, business operations and fundraising, culminating in the opportunity to pitch their ideas to potential investors and partners. With this curriculum the school is designed to teach students to succeed whether they go the traditional postsecondary education route, the startup route, or a combination of the two.

Oracle is bringing a charter public school to their professional campus, providing the opportunity for employees to mentor students in their effort to create business plans and design built around the user experience. Design Tech High School operates independently, without influence from Oracle in terms of hiring or even curriculum. This unique arrangement allows students to participate in internships with Oracle throughout the school year, with the students maintaining the rights to intellectual property from any marketable ideas that come about as a result of their work.

Wozniak University, an online school built by former Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak, offers students technology-driven, project-based learning to help prepare them for careers in Information Technology. Their K-12 STEAM-based curriculum (science, technology, engineering, art, math) exposes students to digital engineering at a young age, and since the curriculum is aligned with postsecondary programs to create “career pathways” in the fields of coding, engineering, robotics, drones, 3-D printing and cybersecurity, the transition to higher education is more streamlined.

The Kahn Lab School in California caters to ability level, not grades. Students work with teachers to set academic and development goals for themselves, which dictates how much time is allocated to various skills that will help them reach those goals. Students learn cognitive skills and character skills, working both independently and in groups, which are reviewed weekly with their teacher.  


Are These New Models the Future of Education?

As it relates to education, apprenticeships, internships and collaboration between businesses and schools have one thing in common: their focus is on real-world experiences, not traditional class lectures.

Each of these models uses actual work experience as the foundation for building one’s skill set, helping students to understand the real-world applications of the skills they’re learning. Further, each of these models makes the student a partner in their own education, focusing on topics that interest them rather than topics a district mandates they learn.  

Supporters of these new models believe they are designed to facilitate curiosity and lifelong learning, as well as soft skills like communication and teamwork that are the buzzwords in the business world today. It’s also possible that these models could accelerate a student’s career by helping them sample different disciplines to find one that suits them, or increasing access to postsecondary education.

Detractors worry that focusing on a career too soon will stifle the desire to learn and ability to think objectively, or allow businesses to “train” their incoming workforce on the taxpayers’ dollar. There is also the question of whether students who transition in and out of these models will find the lack of continuity disruptive.

Continuity between schools helps ensure that everyone is speaking the same instructional language (Abamu, J. 2017). When different schools have different learning practices and different curriculum, students may find the transition between elementary, middle and high school confusing.

Thus, while many agree that schools and curriculum need an upgrade to properly prepare students for a career, it’s too soon to tell which, if any, of these models holds the most promise. What is known is that only by innovating will we find a solution.

Join the Conversation

As business continues to evolve schools will have to adapt to ensure they are preparing students for available careers. Apprenticeships, internships and strategic partnerships may be able to bridge the gap between what is learned in the classroom and what is needed in the real-world. Do you think real-world experience adds value to classroom activities? Do you feel businesses can provide valuable input to the education industry?


Abamu, J. (2017) – EdSurge. When a New School Year Means a New School Model, Students Can Be in for an Uphill Battle. (

Cavanagh, S. (2017) – EdWeek. Apple Co-Founder Steve Wozniak Jumps Into Tech Training, and K-12 Curriculum. (

DeVoss, B. (2018) – What America Can Learn from Switzerland’s Apprenticeships, (

Noonoo, S. (2016) – eSchoolNews. 4 Radically Different School Models Upending Education. (


Singer, N. (2017) – The New York Times. Now On Oracle’s Campus, A $43 Million Public High School. (

Singmaster, H. (2015) – EdWeek. Why We Need Apprenticeship Programs for High School Students (

Vincent, J. (2017) – The Verge. Automation Threatens 800 Million Jobs, But Technology Could Still Save Us, Says Report (

Selingo, J. (2017) – Washington Post. Why Are Apprenticeships a Good Idea That Have Never Really Taken Off in the U.S.? (