With about half the population hitting their mid-20s without proper job skills, Tennessee high school students could be provided with better technical and career course work, officials said Friday.
"I think we have a real need to revamp some of the course offerings and an opportunity to do that with the encouragement of the business sector," said Kevin Huffman, state commissioner of education.
More than 50 Tennessee government, business and education leaders met in Chattanooga in what was billed as a "career-ready summit" to align education and business priorities and enhance the workforce.
Robert Schwartz, academic dean of the Harvard Graduate School of Education, said students increasingly have received the message that the only way to secure a future is to get some form of post-secondary education and even a four-year degree.
But only about 30 percent of people earn their four-year degrees by age 25, another 10 percent get a two-year associate degree while about 10 percent attain a post-secondary certificate, he said.
"We still have roughly half of our kids who are at risk in this increasingly challenging, demanding economy," Schwartz said.
He told the group that in many central and northern European countries, between 40 percent and 70 percent of students around 16 years old move into programs that combine work and learning.
Hans-Herbert Jagla, executive vice president of human resources for Volkswagen's Chattanooga operations, said people are the company's most valuable asset.
"We really need educated people," he said, adding the company has difficulty finding some skilled workers.
Out of the conference, Jagla said, he wanted to see more of a focus in schools on science, technology, engineering and math along with students learning at least one foreign language.
Deputy Gov. Claude Ramsey said state officials need to listen to what business and industry are telling them.
"This is what we should be doing," he said about the summit, which officials indicated could be replicated in other parts of the state.