Oh sure, we still rely on our tried and trusted brick layers, construction workers, pipe fitters, buzz saws, nails, screws and hammers. But for the most part, jobs are different; they require a special set of skills, and the technical tools are more advanced.
Global competition can mean life or death with respect to jobs, job security and steady income. Just ask former automotive Detroit residents how unforgiving it can be.
Some changes within the workforce have been evolving for decades while others have arrived on the scene with overwhelming speed. Study after study suggests that our country’s lack of skilled labor is in large part a result of misalignment between industry and our education system. We must readjust in order to prepare students for 20th century manufacturing jobs. Working and living in silos, political manipulation, entrenched education systems and competing interests prevent us from adequately responding to the accelerating technological change.
The Washington Post (Oct. 10, 2013) published a national education report and the results were not encouraging. When compared globally, Americans are “decidedly weaker in numeracy and problem-solving skills than in literacy, and average U.S. scores for all three are below the international average and far behind the scores of top performers like Japan or Finland,” said Jack Buckley, commissioner of the National Center for Education Statistics, the data collection arm of the U.S. Department of Education.
U.S. adults did worse in mathematics where they trailed 18 countries and beat just two — Italy and Spain. In the category of “problem-solving in technology-rich environments,” or digital skills, U.S. adults lagged behind their counterparts in 14 countries.
I don’t mean to sound negative. Of course, we’re doing many things right and we’re making some progress.
We have strengthened early childhood education and our kids are taught by amazing, and hard-working teachers. Most of our Bradley County and Cleveland City schools partner with local business and industry which helps shape and sponsor efforts to strengthen and enrich the student’s learning experience.
Our schools have strong Career Technical Education programs to prepare students for advanced manufacturing jobs. The Cleveland/Bradley Chamber of Commerce has dedicated workforce development personnel whose job is to connect business and industry with local educational resources. Our region is fortunate to offer students and current workers several postsecondary training options for improving and sharpening skills.
But there is more to accomplish. Globalization impacts everything. We need additional and better jobs for our residents; so does everyone else. We are competing with everyone, everywhere, for every job. Skilled labor is a deciding factor in many business locations and expansions. Having job-seekers with the right skills is the most important way for communities to successfully compete.
Employers need and expect successful job candidates who are educated, dependable, drug free, skilled and can solve problems. While a high school diploma adequately prepared you for 75 percent of jobs in 1973, today almost 75 percent of jobs require some level of postsecondary training or credentials (2013 Report on the Future of the South).
Albert Einstein once said, “Reality is merely an illusion, albeit a very persistent one.” The Southern Growth Policy Board recently issued their 2013 Report on the Future of the South. They identify the following seven truths of today’s “persistent reality” for the workforce:
- The United States and the southern economies are changing.
- Globalization has rewritten the rules of competition.
- Workforce demographics are changing.
- The talent bar for success is rising.
- Life cycles are changing.
- The tools for learning and skill acquisition are changing.
- The expectations for Return on Investment (ROI) for our education and workforce development dollars are rising.
The types of skills needed and the types of jobs being created today are not “your dad’s” workplace anymore. Technology and innovation are here and they will only become more advanced. The skill set of students and current workers as well must be enhanced on a continuous basis. It’s what we refer to as “lifelong learning.”
The rewards for more competent skills are increasing and for lesser skills, shrinking. Let’s face it. The reality is the talent bar is rising. This is no illusion.
For more information, visit our website www.clevelandstatecc. edu/onesource.
(Editor’s Note: This guest “Viewpoint” has been written and submitted by Rick Creasy, director of workforce development at Cleveland State Community College.)