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Feb 20, 2003 to Feb 6, 2013

The Skills Gap - Has America's Educational System Hurt Young Workers?


For the last few years, there have been rumblings that our educational system is not adequately preparing students to take their place in the workforce.  They call it career-readiness, and unfortunately, a lot of young job applicants aren't, ready that is.

The Spring issue of my alumni magazine raised the point again, in response to a recent survey by PayScale.com.  The article, entitled “Essential Skills: What does it take to be career-ready in today's workforce,” would not have caught my eye had it not been for the colorful bubbles atop the page.  Inside those bubbles were numbers – 56%, 44%, 60% – which represented how many hiring managers thought recent college graduates lacked certain skills.  The skills our newest workers lack may not surprise us, but they should worry us more than a little.

Among the skills in which young workers were deemed weak are attention to detail (56%), leadership qualities (44%), interpersonal and teamwork skills (36%), written communication (44%), and most most disturbing of all, critical thinking and problem solving (60%).  You can look at the survey results at the PayScale web site.  More than 60,000 hiring managers responded to the survey, as well as close to 15,000 students.

I read these numbers and the corresponding skills. The first thing I thought was: these young workers are the first “cohort” to have been educated almost entirely under No Child Left Behind and Race To The Top, the standardized testing regime that has dominated American education since the early 2000s. Perhaps it has something to do with the bubbles?  Young people fill in a lot of bubbles and if they do it right, we call them educated.  But apparently being educated is not the same as being career-ready.

Then I thought: this is what happens when we de-emphasize liberal arts in favor of an acronym – STEM (Science Technology Engineering Mathematics) – which is what America has been doing for decades, out of fear of Communists (who everyone knows are better at STEM).  But look at the skills  that managers are looking for: oral and written communication, interpersonal skills, leadership, and problem solving (all categorized as “soft skills.”)  Turns out, the skills we need aren't the specialized skills involved in “STEM.” Rather, they're the ones we threw away in our tireless pursuit of the perfect post-industrial workforce, STEAM notwithstanding.

(Is it sexist to think that our very categorization of communication and problem solving as “soft” is sexist?)

My final thought was:  this is what happens when communication is reduced to text message shorthand and emojis, and participation can be as minimal as liking something or just lurking...  No wonder public speaking was cited by 39% of hiring mangers as a skill young workers tend to lack.  Heck, even the more basic skill of conversation seems on its way out.

June is graduation month and, as always, getting out of college with a diploma is something to celebrate.  But even the best prepared of today's graduates may find themselves in need to be some self-imposed deprogramming after 16 years of standardized testing, social media immersion, and the modern delusion that through education, everyone can be made the same.

When an education system that focuses on preparing students for the global economy can't even prepare them for entry level jobs here in the US of A, something is clearly wrong with that system.  For the sake of future generations and ourselves, we need  to recreate our educational system to produce adults who can read, write, comprehend, communicate, and think.  It's not rocket science, folks!

Source:
2016 Workforce-Skills Preparedness Report

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Downhill battle

I find it hard to believe all this atrophy in skill is happening by accident. It isn't even retrogression, as it seems we were more humanely functional, even a generation ago.

Who is behind it, and why? If you look at the new Secretary of Education, DeVos, it's easy to see the impetus is not to make students into informed, well rounded, cognitively savvy citizens. It's a push to make exploitable dupes and sutlers.

Many of us remember life before...before the Internet, before nuance and liberalism was a bad word, before television in general was compulsive idiocy. We can reminisce out loud all we want, not sure that'll change anything.

 
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Head of the Class

I tend to run into two types of young worker - really smart and on the ball, and dumb as a post with no social skills. Extremes, it seems. But that is just anecdotal.

Recently we went to a Game Night and played Go To The Head Of The Class. It was a version of the board game from about 1958 or so.

If you've never played, you choose your piece, roll dice, and try to work your way through 99 "desks" to reach the head of the class. To go forward, a question must be answered correctly. Get it wrong and you go backwards.

The question book is filled with 1958 topics of common knowledge. In order to do well, one must know about a wide range of subjects, such as Religions of the World, History, and Geography, but also things like Chemistry and metals. It was expected that most people would know what metal gets alloyed with gold, or what gets combined with iron to make steel.

One needed to know Mythology (all the greek and roman gods and goddesses), the history of Classical Music, and the great painters and art movements.

States and world capitals, rivers, lakes, and world leaders were expected to be known.

Needless to say, it was hard! Those of us playing frequently got things wrong and were sent backwards. It took us hours to make it though, and we felt as though we had been through exams at a tough high school by the end of it.

There was also a real pleasure in reaching deep into the dusty brain files to come up with correct answers. Getting it right felt good. There was a pleasure in knowing.

Lesson learned - we demanded more of ourselves back then, imho.

 

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