Will the next generation of skilled workers be there when we need them?

If American manufacturing is to maintain its competitive edge, it will need to keep pace with the industrial innovations being developed in other lands. To achieve that goal, we'll need to have more than our proportionate share of skilled vocational workers, youth who can excel at activities other than video games and instant messaging.

Joel Leonard, the Maintenance Evangelist, has been sounding the alarm about the so-called maintenance crisis for years in the pages of Plant Services, on National Public Radio, at many conferences and trade shows, and anywhere he could get his hands on a bullhorn. I’ve written about the shortage of people having vocational skill in another blog entry titled “Finding the next generation of skilled workers.”

This situation isn’t confined to this country, if one can accept what Alison Wolf, a British economist and Director of Public Services Policy and Management at King's College, London, wrote in “Review of Vocational Education - The Wolf Report,” which was released in March 2011.

The paper warns that the current British system steers students into paths that are essentially dead-end. It recommends that we tell students the truth about careers, that is, not all of them are equal. And, it argues that because of centralized government, current educational systems are too opaque to outsiders, such as students.

You can find another analysis of the paper in “Vocational education not good enough,” and article by Angela Harrison, BBC’s Education correspondent.

I guess the bottom line is this: The economy might be in the doldrums now, but when activity picks up, as it has been doing throughout history, you’d best be able to staff up to meet the market demand that’s sure to follow.