10/24/2012 11:05 am ET Updated Dec 24, 2012

Workforce Education Should Start in Kindergarten

The ability to innovate takes the ability to dream. When we are five years old, we know what we want to be when we grow up. When we are 45, many of us have lost our way. How many people just fall into jobs because the one they planned to get required experience they didn't have or their degree was not enough? I graduated from college with a Business Management degree and a couple of years of experience as a retail store clerk. My big promotion was to be a "red pen" at Jordan Marsh. This meant I could sign off on returns and voids. Not exactly a job in need of a degree.

When I graduated, I had to figure out life. I had never really had a class on interviewing, had one lesson on resumes, and probably should have figured out responsible credit and balancing a checkbook from my finance class, but it was focuses more on investments. As I talk to people about jobs and lives, it seems like they learned it on their own too from trial and error.

If you have successful parents and know what success looks like it is easy to model it. For the thousands of people experiencing generational poverty, there is no typical role model. If we don't integrate workforce education into people's lives early, we are setting them up to fail.

A couple of years ago, I had the opportunity to teach a class of 26 fifteen year-old students about how to get a job. Crooms Academy in Sanford, Florida is a magnet school focusing on technology. They also require their students to complete a portfolio before graduation which includes several Junior Achievement classes. When I discovered many schools do not teach workforce education, I signed up to volunteer.

As a former board member of Workforce Central Florida years ago, when asked what I would do to change workforce education (they did say pie in the sky), I told them I would start in kindergarten. The group laughed at me. I love humor, but I was serious. Our education system is supposed to be designed to help us to become effective adults through learning. I would venture to say it is just as important for us to know the ins and outs of navigating life as it is to have a grasp of geometry. We need to dream, innovate, create, and apply what we learn.

Back to my class at Crooms Academy; the class I taught was advanced success skills. The students learned how to write a resume and cover letter, interview skills, including body language, research, and questions to ask. They learned how to tailor their application to the job, show transferable skills (at 15 they did not have much work experience), and find the right contact. They were taught about eye contact and handshakes, and how to tell an interviewer about themselves in 30 seconds or less.

Twenty-three of the 26 students came prepared for interview day with their resumes in hand. One student said he was not able to print, but was prepared to share his 30-second infomercial with the interviewer. She was impressed. As we interviewed the students, their level of preparedness became apparent. Those who had researched, tailored their materials, and prepared were head and shoulders better in the interview than those who had put less time and thought into it. One teen was thrilled when I read his cover letter aloud to the class. It was better than I have seen most adults write.

To me, this class and this experience, one of many with Junior Achievement and with my job at Christian HELP and the Central Florida Employment Council is just one small example of the importance of education and being prepared. If no one teaches us, how will we know?

Is there workforce education in your school? There isn't in my children's high school unless someone from the outside comes in and teaches a class. Even if they go on to college as I did, learning how to get a job is so vitally important to their future earning potential and success that it should be integrated into our education system. And yes, I believe we should start in kindergarten.