November 6, 2013

Here’s a first for me. I’m posting a YouTube link. A link that will take you to a recent short interview segment between CNN’s Piers Morgan and Mike Rowe, host of the Discovery Channel series Dirty Jobs. Rowe makes the best possible case for re-thinking our post-high school education system and I urge you to watch it:

It’s important to realize that 75% of the high school students that our education system graduates each year are not likely to earn a college baccalaureate degree. These students eventually comprise the majority of America’s front-line workforce, and our future prosperity depends on them. Yet, the skills they leave school with are not the skills American businesses require if we are going to return this nation to global competitiveness.

Compared with other countries, American front-line workers lag far behind in the sophisticated skills needed to compete internationally: communications, math, science, conceptual thinking, flexibility, responsiveness, and technological expertise. These are skills that most front-line workers in Japan and many European countries possess, to the ultimate economic benefit of those nations. What those countries have learned about education and the workforce has been translated into comprehensive public education programs for the non-college bound student. These programs all but obliterate the conventional lines between education and training.

In the United States, however, the education system has not changed from that of fifty or more years ago, when most workers’ jobs were de-skilled and required little thinking. Perhaps that was appropriate for an America that led the world in a price-driven mass-production economy. People left school knowing all they would ever have to know in that environment. They did not learn how to get new information or how to continue learning.

Although the world economic reality has changed greatly since then, neither American education nor many American businesses have kept pace. Mass production and a price-driven economy are long gone, but many organizations continue to segregate jobs into non-thinking and thinking jobs. The new truth is that in order to perform on an international level, front-line workers have to think. Unfortunately, most high school students in this country follow an unfocused, teacher-centered, general education curriculum that prepares them for neither college nor a vocation.

But, in order to be effective at developing highly qualified front-line workers, the stigma attached to vocational-technical education must also be removed. In most European countries, an apprenticeship program bestows on its graduates respect for their high level of skill, and those nations recognize this with nationally accepted certification. Unfortunately, in America the vo-tech track is often perceived as dead-end, catering to society’s most disadvantaged by providing a minimum of skills designed as a safety net from poverty.

With individuals like Mike Rowe carrying the banner, maybe soon we’ll, once again, be respectful of those individuals and more committed to vocational schools — both necessary for returning America to the leadership position it once held in the manufacturing and process industries.

More on Monday – – –

— Bill Walton, Founder
ITC Learning (Mondays & Wednesdays)