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GORDON, Edward E. Workforce Education: Wanted: a new approach to workforce education. Volume 4, No 1, January - February 1996. Available from < >. access on 26 May 2016.

"Schools must equip students who may face three or more careers in their lifetime with intellectual resilience and analytical skills, over and above a core of knowledge," The Wall Street Journal proclaimed recently. This sounds like the majority of U.S. students and employees need a lot more than just "basic skills." But one major roadblock, according to a recent U.S. Department of Education survey, is that 66% of all school children read below grade level and 90 million current adult workers do not have the skills required by their current jobs!

In the minds of most thinking business people (and maybe now The Wall Street Journal), the need for a "Second American Education Revolution," directly tied to the workplace, is no longer a debatable point. How to achieve it is another matter. A frustrated school-to-work official in the federal government recently told this writer that "a babble of solutions" now being offered business managers has polarized the corporate world into inactivity. "They need to select a good model and get on with it!"

A New York Times review of columnist Hendrick Smith’s new book, Rethinking America, states that the United States needs a variety of new local and national compacts among educators, parents, business, labor and government that will enable them to work together. Yes, there are structural obstacles here that impede this new collaboration: the multiplicity and diversity of our educational institutions; the dynamics of small businesses; the limitation of enrollment in the corporate university to managers and professionals; our unique political culture; the many races, religions, and ethnic groups of America; our regionalism; the vast geographic size of the United States; just to name a few. Whether or not we call it, "career education," "school-to-work," "vocational education," or "tech-prep," there remains widespread resistance to discussion about preparing U.S. students for careers other than those requiring a four-year college degree. These critics’ central argument is that America’s egalitarian society should offer all students the opportunity of going to college. Furthermore, they point to study after study showing that college graduates earn more. Also they righteously state that a new drive for "vocational education" might become a not so subtle way to re-segregate our schools, forcing minorities into non-college programs, thereby institutionalizing a permanent underclass.

What these arguments fail to recognize is the prediction by the U.S. Department of Labor that the occupational explosion in new and expanding technologies will translate into 80 percent of the new jobs over the next 10 years and that most of these jobs will not require a college degree but will require special technical educational preparation.

What is more troubling is the 75% of our current student population who never earn a college diploma, and largely fall into the "occupational black-hole" of not being prepared to perform even the entry-level jobs now offered by high-tech office / production / service businesses. Why? These students lack the ability to apply math, science, reading, and writing skills to computers, or to employ problem solving / thinking skills for teams and other customer service issues that drive a contemporary, fast-paced U.S. business environment.

Most American businesses now believe that it is too costly to train these young people for their entry-level jobs. The role of the corporate university should be limited to managerial issues. It is far cheaper for many companies to relocate in local American communities or overseas, where they can find young entry-level workers who are well-educated, technically able, and astute. The major consequences of this business scenario is, that unless this pattern changes and America learns how to incorporate better career preparation through locally driven Workforce Education Programs, the U.S. will develop into a two-tier society of high-wage/high-educated employees versus low-wage/low-educated workers. Left unchecked this business trend could gradually undermine the American middle class and our consumer-driven economic system. Signs of this change have already begun with the continued wage erosion of middle-class workers.

This U.S. business mind-set is in sharp contrast to our chief foreign competitors: Germany, Japan, Britain, and other European Union (EU) nations. Overcoming equally mind-numbing social problems of their own, they artfully crafted profitable Workforce Education programs. Here are some of the basic universal principles for Workforce Education that can be distilled from these successful efforts at career education and school-to-work programs:

  1. Occupational committees with representatives from leading organizations in business, trade, industry and labor are nationally sponsored. They help define specific education/training programs that represent the basis of adult occupations. However, they also make broad allowances for widely differing local conditions that exist throughout any nation’s work environment.
  2. Local/regional control is vital. A Workforce Education Program will only be as good as the quality of the local/regional board, group, or committee that organizes and administers the effort. A broad spectrum of business, unions, educators, and political representatives, through often difficult and protracted negotiation, must decide the characteristics of this local program. The imposition of one "ideal" model from the outside is doomed to failure. Unless the cities, counties, states, or regions see their own economic viability is at stake, no regional plan can be written and successfully used. In the United States, local and regional chambers of commerce might serve as a starting point.
  3. Whatever the regional plan offers, the participation of business, unions, and education must remain voluntary. We cannot compel the various players to adopt change, unless we clearly build a case that it is in their economic self-interest to do so.
  4. In any region that adopts a Workforce Education Program, involvement must be encouraged among small, medium and large-scale business enterprises.
  5. The local or regional Workforce Education Programs must be able to supervise the contents of each training program to assure quality. They must be empowered to conduct examinations that measure student achievement and competency and to offer specific career certification.
  6. Retraining must be available over an employee’s lifetime. The concept of life-long learning, changing careers, updating personal knowledge will become a central feature of each local or regional program.
  7. The concept of Workforce Education will become part of all elementary and secondary school curricula. Teachers will be trained through local higher education programs to incorporate technical aptitude/skills into the standard curriculum. Thus, all children will participate in a wide range of programs that will better enable them to discern their own individual interests and aptitudes. Industry/labor will play a central role by supplying information on present as well as future occupations and the basic competencies needed. Junior high-school counselors will be able to tell parents how their child’s academic, technical, and intellectual abilities, and their personal interests relate to future career/job needs in the local/regional/national workplace. Parents and children need to consider career aspirations based on accurate information not media glitz.
  8. Local or regional programs will be jointly funded by industry, unions and governmental taxation. This funding will be used by the widest possible variety of public/private institutions offering education programs that reflect what both parents want for their children and what the local workplace partners (industry/union/educators) are willing to provide in the way of local employment opportunities.
  9. Local programs will offer adaptations for problematic students. This includes school drop-outs, juvenile offenders, and students with special needs.
  10. Adult workers will need retraining. Local technical institutes will offer additional career education programs. To make this a practical reality, some adults during this retraining may need short-term child care, housing, health care, and other social services. Local programs must weigh the economic value of retraining the older adult worker versus long-term welfare dependency.

Other countries have already developed innovative Workforce Education Programs that can be adapted locally in the United States. Sweden’s "Youth Centre Program" that provides alternative high schools, Germany’s "Dual System" that is based on apprenticeship and vocational/high-tech training, France’s "Missions Locales" that helps young adults make the transition from school to work, and the "Apprenticeship Program" of Great Britain, all supply useful models for adaptation by U.S. planners to meet regional needs.

I have often heard that the United States is too large and diverse to adopt one system. This is true. However, when traveling to Europe and spending time in different regions of any country, I have learned that these nations still retain unique local characteristics and needs. Germany today uses over 150 local dialects. In Italy one sees a city flag more often than the national standard. In fact, in some cities such as Siena, each neighborhood has a distinctive flag! Americans aren’t the only people who take pride in regional individualism. But how does this translate to the administration of these European Workforce Education Programs?

Germany’s "Dual System" is institutionalized into its federal law. A national committee of experts representing different occupational groups has helped define 450 officially recognized occupational groupings representing the basis for more than 20,000 adult occupations. However, the precise administration of the "Dual System" is in the hands of the local chambers of industry and commerce. Representatives from business, unions, education, and government serve on each chamber’s board to determine the specific educational programs that local market conditions require in their working environment.

What this means is that the German "Dual System" is administered very differently in each German state. The occupational mix offered is based on local needs. Local interests drive the system, not a monolithic, "federal" mentality. The same will be true in the U.S. if we are to make Workforce Education a cultural reality.

Here is how it might happen. The U.S. Departments of Labor and Education are already collaborating with many industrial sectors trying to lay out the educational requirements of different careers and jobs. This is only a first step.

Each of our 50 states will amend the public school code to revitalize present outmoded vocational education into pervasive Workforce Education programs. How? One way is allowing an on-site business apprenticeship/internship learning component to count as part of regular school attendance. Each state must create a new environment that encourages both schools and businesses to participate. For educators this will mean the start-up of "new" secondary schools, i.e., educational programs similar to the present "career academy" but for specific business careers in electronics, finance, engineering/construction, medicine, etc. Academics at institutions of higher learning must be rewarded for fostering these real world partnerships by, for example, showing teachers how to teach applied physics for diverse career paths at any academic level. Academics must be given professional incentives at their universities to foster business-education integration through applied research.

The corporate university must also be given some incentives to share. This might be done by mobilizing local chambers of commerce to organize a region’s industrial sector through pooling knowledge, needs, resources, and results. One sure road to failure is for one business, no matter how large, to go it alone. Workforce Education is a long-term effort. No business can guarantee permanent internal political/financial support for an ongoing educational effort that encompasses enough schools and diversified job placements to provide future, well prepared, entry-level employees. However, by working as a business sector, individual companies through good times and bad, will be able to maintain an ongoing Workforce Education effort.

The key to America’s future success or failure is its educational system. The ability of Americans to collaborate in forging imaginative local career educational programs will largely determine how well we will compete in the high-tech, international scene of the 21st century. The United States needs a Workforce Education culture that brings together business, education, labor, and government and fosters diverse local school systems in every community to develop America’s creative talent and inventiveness.

Do you have the courage and willpower to become personally involved in this change in your city, county or state? Write to me here at Corporate University Review and tell me about diversified job placementsyour experiences, questions, or dilemmas, as you seek to play a professional role in this "Second American Education Revolution" through Workforce Education. I’ll be glad to write back to you with ideas, suggestions, and information.

Dr. Edward E. Gordon is an author, speaker, teacher and consultant on employee development and learning. He is president of Imperial Corporate Training and Development in Chicago and can be reached by calling 312/881-3700.

Keywords: organizationally consistent career ladders, diverse local school systems, role in international finance, risk in creative industries, predictable career paths, career switchers transitioning, money service business, career in business, skill in wage, modes of production, future of work, national sponsorship, economic production, voluntary participation, political power, career competencies, working conditions, inquiry communities, reality check, travel experts, joint funding, career options, career preparation, workforce education, business environment, market failure, futures contracts, world scenario, social services, cryptocurrency, polarization, education, workplace, Sweden

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-- GregorioIvanoff - 26 Aug 2016
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