All I Need to Know I Learned in Pre-Kindergarten

Editors Note: This is a new post by Dr. Nicole Walters on the connection between education and job skills. As always, feel free to share your thoughts on the comments section. -M.P.

All I Need to Know I Learned in Pre-Kindergarten

by Dr. Nicole McZeal Walters


I was recently asked to develop a curriculum for teachers working in a summer externship to learn more about industry skills and higher education programs in an effort to prepare students for post secondary readiness. What is post-secondary readiness you may ask? It means getting kids ready to be productive, knowledgeable, and WORKING citizens after they leave high school. The premise is teachers spend two full weeks on various two – and four- year college campuses, learning about their programs and admissions processes. They subsequently visit with various corporations to see firsthand what their needs are, how to prepare students for the workforce, and how to engage the education community. The program culminates with teachers writing lesson plans to teach students, parents, and their school community about their externship experience and inviting their corporate sponsors to partner with them for future opportunities. The thrust for this program is significant: our ability to be a global competitor depends on it.

After consulting with a number of industry insiders, the prevalent notion is students are coming to the workforce ill-prepared and are struggling with skills that they feel should have been learned long before they hit the market for a job. The rapidity in which the U.S. is losing valuable ground as a world leader in education and workforce development is not a new concept. Soaring drop-out rates among high school students and diminished literacy skills among adults are contributing to this dangerous inclination. But here’s a new tangential twist that’s also given rise to industry decline: many job applicants are missing fundamental skills that most of us learned when we were in grade school. Let me break it down for you.

Many new hires are inept at learning how to work and “play” well with others, have no clue what being a team player means, can’t communicate at both high and low levels (meaning, you can break down what you do in a 10 minute elevator speech as if you were explaining to a 10 year-old), don’t know how to listen without interrupting others, don’t dress appropriately for that particular job, and struggle with managing time effectively. Companies report having to spend thousands on training to bring their employees up to speed, or fire them because they can’t assimilate within the culture of the organization. Much of it is due to lacking these germane skills.

I liken these skills to what those of us in Pre-Kindergarten programs teach effectively on a daily basis. We teach our little ones how to play and work well with others, not to talk when others are talking, use the timer to work in centers (when you hear the “ping!” of your timer, you move to the next workstation station so others get a turn. No ifs, and, or buts about it), and to keep themselves clean! This should totally be an exercise on a job application: let’s see how well you work with others before we hire you. If you can’t cut the mustard with the aforementioned exercises, you’re outta’ here! It’s just that simple. Time really is ticking and we don’t have any additional time to lose.  We are at a critical crossroads in this country. They next steps we take on these preparing a competent workforce will determine our economic standing, both at home and around the world, for decades to come. So the next time you meet a Pre-Kindergarten teacher, tell them how much you appreciate you them etching life skills to support our labor force: one, 4 year-old at a time.

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