Finding the next generation of skilled workers

No doubt, you've heard claims that the United States isn't preparing its adolescent citizens to continue the technological innovation that made this country an economic powerhouse earlier in the 20th century. With the entry-level credentials needed for manufacturing rising every year, this "skills gap" might make it difficult for inadequately educated people of any age to participate in the quest for the American dream.

It’s strange that the public discussion about student achievement seems to ignore one critical element. We hear about teachers and how tenure should be based on performance, not longevity. We hear about standardized tests and how teachers structure the curricula to match the tests in an attempt to ensure that this year’s test scores are better than last year.

Shouldn’t the students be part of the equation? Is it possible to educate someone who simply isn’t motivated enough to put in the effort? If not, it’s hard to know what benefits we should expect to derive from other teacher-centric measures we might take.

Or, is it the case that the mechanism we call “education” is inherently inadequate for its intended purpose? I wonder why it doesn’t, can’t, won’t instill a healthy degree of vigorous self-motivation in those who are supposed to benefit from learning. I wonder why it looks like our educational infrastructure fails to capture hearts and minds.

Apparently, others better equipped to address the matter have been thinking about it, too. In February of 2011, the Harvard Graduate School of Education published its take on the state of vocational education in this country in a document titled “Pathways to Prosperity Project: Meeting the challenge of preparing young Americans for the 21st century.”

It highlights the symptoms of this educational disease, explains why that system fails to deliver, explores measures that other countries use to guarantee a ready supply of skilled workers, and how some of these best practices from abroad can be put into effect here.

Oh, by the way, those approaches from Europe involve the employer as an active participant in the care and feeding of those sharp minds and the creative thinking that will ensure that the American dream continues to endure.