Project Management Institute

Project management's future

teaching project management to high school students



The world is changing. The job market is changing. Globalization is impacting all of us and changing the way we interact in the work place. The skills needed in today’s work place are different than what was needed 15 or even 10 years ago. The question is: Is the education system changing to meet the changing business environment? Is our education system preparing our children for the new realities of a global economy? Unfortunately, the answer seems to be that our educational system does not do a very good job of preparing our children for today’s work environment. This paper will examine the quality of the education system in the United States, the effects of globalization on future job prospects, and a pilot project in Philadelphia to help rectify some of the short comings noted in our educational system.


The objectives of this presentation are as follows:

  1. To provide an overview of the skills needed in today’s workforce.
  2. To examine how the education system in the United States is addressing the needs of today’s workforce.
  3. To review the Philadelphia High School Project Management Project, its methods, and its objectives.
  4. To look for ways to improve and expand the Philadelphia Project.

Analysis of Today’s Educational System in the United States

21st Century Skills

In the spring of 2006, the Conference Board, Corporate Voices for Working Families, Partnership for the 21st Century Skills, and the Society for Human Resource Management performed a study to determine how prepared our children are to enter the work force. The first question asked by the study was: What are the basic areas of knowledge and skills needed by today’s high school graduates to enter today’s workplace? This question was asked of a number of Fortune 500 companies to determine the skill and knowledge requirements of today’s workforce. The study broke the results down into two general areas: knowledge and applied skills. Exhibit 1 below shows the highest scoring needs in each area (the Conference Board, INC, the Partnership for 21st Century Skills, Corporate Voices for Working Families, and the Society for Human Resource Management, 2006).

Knowledge and Skills Needs

Exhibit 1--Knowledge and Skills Needs

Once the needs were established, the next question asked was: How good are the schools at meeting these needs? For each of the needs, the study ranked the schools’ ability to meet these needs as of these down into three possible outcomes: deficient, adequate, or excellent. Exhibit 2 below shows the areas in which the study found high school students to be deficient. High school students were found to be adequately prepared in only three areas: information technology, diversity, and teamwork. High school students were found not to be excellent in any of the areas.

These data are presented in order from “most deficient” (at the top of the list) to least deficient. For the remainder of this paper, only the applied skills will be examined. The reason for this is simple: most of the deficiencies were in the applied skills area, not in the knowledge areas. As having the most need, it appeared to be the most important.

Applied Skills Deficiencies

Exhibit 2--Applied Skills Deficiencies

As Table 2 shows, high school students in the United States are lacking in many key areas that are needed for one to survive in today’s work place (the Conference Board, INC, the Partnership for 21st Century Skills, Corporate Voices for Working Families, and the Society for Human Resource Management, 2006). Lacking in these key areas may create a condition in which those who are deficient have a difficult time obtaining and maintaining reasonable employment. As for the economy as a whole, not properly preparing our students for employment places a much larger burden on our employers and our society as a whole.

Tables 1 and 2 show that most of the deficiencies were in knowledge areas discussed in A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK Guide)---Third edition (Project Management Institute [PMI], 2004). It seems that project management would address most of the applied skills issues shown in the study.

Perkins Title IV

The federal government has also recognized some of the issues regarding applied skills in the workforce. Hence, this led to the passage of the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act of 2006. This act was designed to provide money for school districts to provide life skills education to school students. Perkins is the most recent of a series of Perkins Acts starting with Perkins Title I. This latest act places much more emphasis on the importance of the knowledge and skills needed by our high school graduates to keep the United States competitive in the world marketplace (U. S. Department of Education, 2008). This act provides only money; it is up to local school districts to use it and how to use it. In short, it is up to the local school districts to find or develop programs to incorporate the requirements of the Act.

Project-Based Learning

Project- based learning is basically learning by doing. This is done by teams or by individuals using a hands-on approach (Mergendaller, 2006). It is not the “two plus two equals four” teaching approach used by most high school courses or training classes. Rather, it is: Here is a problem--- - fix it. It is: here is a vacant lot--- – fill it with something useful to society.

According to Bernie Trilling of the Oracle Education Foundation, project learning is, “students working in teams to experience and explore relevant real-world problems, questions, issues or challenges; then creating presentations and products to share what they have learned. The teacher’s role is one of coach facilitator, guiding, advising and mentoring--- – not directing or managing all student work.”

Since most of the applied skills shown to be needed by our high school students were related to the field of project management, it seemed appropriate to explore this using some of the attributes of project- based learning as a method for addressing these applied skills deficiencies. This pedagogy seems perfectly aligned with teaching applied skills. Additionally, teaching applied skills and project management using an actual project seemed as a reasonable instructional method for high school students. This method also seemed as an excellent means of method of allowing the students to learn the material while maintaining their interest in the subject matter.

Analysis of External Factors on Education in the United States

Globalization and its Affect on Students Today

Today’s economy is a global one. We’ve all heard this said many times. But what does it really mean? In one respect, having a “global economy” means that for many of us, and perhaps especially for the workers of the near future (i.e., today’s high school students), our careers could be affected by individuals and events anywhere on the globe. Let’s look at one of the fastest growing industries, the IT industry, since many high school students plan on pursuing a career in the IT industry.

Unfortunately, the Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics, citing research work of Forrester Research Inc. and the Brooking institute, estimates that by 2015 more than a half a million IT sector jobs will be lost in the United States due to outsourcing and/or offshoring (Bednarzik, 2005). This works out to approximately 50,000 to 70,000 IT sector jobs lost per year between now and 2015. This is a chilling statistic for any IT sector project manager, let alone for an ill-prepared high school student. But why are so many IT jobs being lost? To evaluate that question, we need only look at two other world economies: China and India.

Let’s begin with China. According to Dr. Parker of the University of Nevada in Reno, China is either the second or sixth largest economy in the world, depending on which measurement you use. It has the fastest economic growth rate and population. It graduates 30 million high school seniors per year. It has 2.4 million traditional college graduates per year, with 1.9 million returning adult graduates per year and 150,000 advanced degree graduates per year. As for advanced degrees, the two most popular majors are engineering and management (Parker, 2007). These two degree paths are also two critical components in the field of project management. China is rapidly moving from a worker-based economy to a knowledge-based economy.

Moving on to India, according to Jo Johnson of the Financial Times, over half of the population of India is younger than 25 years old, with a mean age of 23 years. The country produces three million college graduates per year. Of these, about 25% of the graduates are in engineering with approximately 15% are suitable for outsourced work (Johnson, 2006). By comparison, the United States has far fewer college graduates across the board. Overall, India is becoming a country with a workforce of young, educated individuals. India already is the world leader in outsourced call center, accounting, and IT jobs. Just considering the impact of China and India alone would indicate that in order to be competitive, the United States would have to do a superior job of preparing its students.

The Philadelphia Program


To address these issues, show above, PMIEF, DeVry University, and the Delaware Valley Chapter of PMI formed a partnership with the Philadelphia School District to bring project management education to Philadelphia high school students. The pilot class began in the Philadelphia School District in the summer of 2008 with additional planned classes into the fall of 2008 and spring of 2009. The program uses PMI Delaware Valley Chapter members as mentors. Thus, this initiative provides volunteer opportunities for local component chapter members to mentor high school students.

Issues Encountered

Many issues were encountered throughout this program. Exhibit 3 shows many of these issues and the details surrounding each issue.


Exhbit 3–Issues

Exhibit 3 is not all- inclusive. Many smaller issues were found and overcome in short order, thus did not make the list. Many of these issues could have been show stoppers, but due to the drive of those involved, all were overcome.

Program Design

The Philadelphia Project was designed to fill as many applied skills deficiencies as possible while combining project learning with Perkins Title IV requirements. In short, we tried to combine the needs of high school students with the best methods available. Initial issues that were considered were: ensuring that the needs of the workplace were included in the program, incorporating project- based learning methodology, and considering the abilities of the student.

The needs of the workplace were considered paramount as the needs of the workplace translate directly to the needs of the individual high school student. Hence, the project incorporated as many of the needs as compared to the deficiencies identified by the 21st Century study. Once the needs presented and the deficiencies identified were cross referenced with the A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide)---Third edition (PMI, 2004), the major topics of the course were identified. These cross-referenced topics are described in Exhibit 4.

Topics Included in the Program

Exhibit 4–Topics Included in the Program

Second, the Philadelphia project incorporated project learning. The course was designed as one big project. The class was broken into teams for work on the project. The project was to design and develop a project plan for a vacant lot next to the Philadelphia School District Headquarters. To accomplish this, the class needed to do presentations. The first presentation was on the project team’s charter and scope statement for the project. The second presentation was on the project’s WBS, schedule, communication plan, and a community involvement/ stakeholder involvement plan. The final presentation included the first two presentations with a control plan and a risk management plan.

Abilities of the students presented a special challenge. How does one get a high school student interested in project learning or project management given the current methods used in the education system in United States? How does one interest a high school student in areas of life that they in all likelihood have never yet heard of or considered? In order to address this issue, we decided that college credit would be required (supplying the “What’s in it for me?” factor for the high school student). This provided incentive to high school students to participate in the program. Second, the use of mentors from the PMI Delaware Valley Chapter provided the students with contact with experienced project managers. This provided a volunteer opportunity for local chapter members and an opportunity to help high school students locally. This use of mentors was found to be of great value to the students in the course, as they provided a conduit between the abstract learning with concrete applications of the material.

Implementation of the Program

The pilot of the project began in June of 2008. It completed in August of 2008. The pilot class began with 15 students. Twenty five students were to be in the first class, but only fifteen actually attended. Of the fifteen students, none passed a pretest given on the first day of class. The mean grade of the pretest was 35.2%. The results of the program are as follows:

 The class presented their final presentations on August 5, 2008. All students passed the final presentations. A final examination was given the following day that served as the post -test for the course. The mean grade of the post-test was 78.7%. These results reveal a statically significant difference between the pretest and post-test at a .05 confidence level. This indicates that the course was successful in addressing its student learning goals.

Conducting a Similar Program Elsewhere

The Philadelphia Project was constructed so that it could be easily replicated anywhere in the United States. The first step in moving forward for PMI local chapter members is to explore the idea with local school officials. Some important issues to consider before beginning such a program are shown in Exhibit 5.

Issues to be Explored Before Initiating a Project Management Education Program

Exhibit 5--Issues to be Explored Before Initiating a Project Management Education Program


This paper was written to describe a program started in the Philadelphia School District for high school students to improve applied skills by the use of project learning and project management. This program combined 21st Century skills with Perkins Title IV requirements to create a program to support the education needs of American youth. It is hoped that this program will become a national program to address some of the shortcomings of the education system of the United States.

Contact information

Dr. John J. Byrne, PMP
[email protected],

Jim Snyder
[email protected]

Diane Fromm
[email protected]

Danielle Seward
[email protected]


The Conference Board, INC, the Partnership for 21st Century Skills, Corporate Voices for Working Families, and the Society for Human Resource Management. (2006). Retrieved April 4, 2007, from

Bednarzik, R. (2005, August). Restructuring information technology: Is offshoring a concern? Bureau of Labor Statistics: Monthly Labor Review, 11-21.

Johnson, J. (2006, November 15). Engaging India: Demographic dividend or disaster? Financial Times. Available at

Mergendoller, J. (2006). Project based learning handbook (2nd ed.). Novatto, CA: Buck Institute for Education.

Project Management Institute. (2004). A guide to the project management body of knowledge (PMBOK® Guide---Third edition. Newtown Square, PA: Project Management Institute.

Parker, E. (2007). The Chinese Economy. Retrieved April 3, 2007, from

Trilling, B. (2006). Why project learning. Project Learning Outline Draft 2.1: Oracle Education Foundation.

U. S. Department of Education; Office of Vocational and Adult Education. Retrieved July 27, 2008, from

This material has been reproduced with the permission of the copyright owner. Unauthorized reproduction of this material is strictly prohibited. For permission to reproduce this material, please contact PMI or any listed author.

©2008, John J. Byrne
Originally published as a part of 2008 PMI Global Congress Proceedings – Denver, Colorado, USA



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