Laura Perna, a professor in the Graduate School of Education at Penn, discusses her book, “Preparing Today’s Students for Tomorrow’s Jobs in Metropolitan America,” which provides urban workers with the educational qualifications and skills they need for real-world jobs.

Credit: Carolyn Lim , Carolyn Lim / The Daily Pennsylvanian

Today will look very different from tomorrow, as the link between good jobs and education grows stronger.

Last night in Houston Hall, the Penn Institute of Urban Research hosted Graduate School of Education professor Laura Perna, editor of “Preparing Today’s Students for Tomorrow’s Jobs in Metropolitan America.”

Perna was joined by a panel of contributing authors to her book, including two Penn faculty members. The latest in Penn IUR’s series of urban book talks, this event focused on the issue of educating young adults and older workers to provide them with the opportunity for greater earnings and job mobility.

After Perna briefly summarized the book, she passed the conversation off to short discussions by the panel members about the chapter each helped write.

Following some words from GSE Senior Fellow Alan Ruby, Clive Belfield, associate professor of economics at Queens College in New York, took the floor. He pointed out that the returns for education were very high, especially for older workers returning to school to obtain degrees.

Assistant professor at the School of Design Laura Wolf-Powers then took to the podium to discuss the second-chance employment system, which makes resources accessible to adults who didn’t go to college or who are stuck in jobs with little economic mobility.

“[That system is] in crisis right now,” Wolf-Powers said. This crisis stems from the separation in federal and local government of the departments of education and labor. However, she applauded partnerships between higher education institutions and cities, such as those at Drexel University and Penn.

Lori Shorr, chief education officer for the city of Philadelphia, then stepped up to “communicate the importance of education in terms of economic development” in the city. To this end, she said, she has worked with Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter every single day since his inauguration.

“We have a substantially broken education system in Philadelphia,” she admitted. However, “it’s not just this city — it’s most urban centers.”

“There is a misalignment between the education level of citizens in this city and what the job requires,” she added, noting that “many folks are undercredentialed and undereducated for the jobs they hold.”

After the contributors wrapped up their talks, Perna opened up the floor to questions from the audience.

Second-year GSE graduate student Julie McWilliams noted that the book talk was “informative but a little more complicated” than she had expected. However, she really liked the interdisciplinary aspect, citing Belfield as a new perspective on urban education.

Jamey Rorison, a fourth-year GSE student and one of Perna’s doctoral students, praised Perna for having “a real talent for bringing different scholars together and creating an interesting dialogue.”

What particularly stood out to Rorison, though, was Shorr’s inclusion in the panel. He appreciated how she has worked with Mayor Nutter in creating new programs and initiatives to address the problem of bridging the education gap.

“It shows they haven’t given up yet,” he said.

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