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Education

Educators Told Kansas Students Need More Workplace Skills

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Alex Proimos, flickr Creative Commons
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Employers across Kansas believe students need to be learning more life skills in school, according to the state's new education commissioner.

Randy Watson, who will become education commissioner July 1, said that's what he's been hearing from companies at a Wednesday meeting with employers and educators in Lawrence.

"None of us would say that academic skills aren't important," said Watson, who has been a longtime superintendent for the McPherson school district. "But we're hearing that is just a subset of what makes for a successful employee."

During the meeting, employers said students need to learn life skills such as punctuality, work ethic and problem solving along with their academic studies.

Watson said it's clear some changes need to be made in the focus of K-12 education. In order to meet the future demands of employees, it will be important to place a greater emphasis on vocational education and degrees of less than four years, he said.

"We have a lot of kids trotting off to KU who honestly don't need to be there," Watson said. "We still have a mentality that if you don't do a four-year degree that it isn't as valuable as other types of degrees. We need to change that."

Kansas is making progress in the area of promoting vocational and technical training, he said, and a state program that allows high school juniors and seniors to attend those kind of classes without paying tuition is becoming more popular among students. The number of students in the program is expected to nearly double this year compared to its first year, serving about 5,800 students in 2013 and an estimated 10,000 students in 2015.

The gathering on Wednesday was the last of several sessions the education department held across Kansas, the Lawrence Journal-World reported. Input from the sessions will be used as the Kansas Board of Education creates a new strategic plan for K-12 education.