The Georgia workforce: Readiness is Job One

By the AJC Editorial Board

Among the soundest economic investments Georgia can make is to refine how children and even adults are schooled for the ever-changing world of work. (Hint: Think outside the college box.)

When it comes to better preparing Georgia’s workers and students for the jobs of today and tomorrow, we’ve put a number of capable oars into the water in recent years.

To achieve sustainable, noticeable results though, we need to keep rowing — hard — and in the same direction.

The case has never been stronger for the benefits to be gained by refining how we school youngsters and even adults for the ever-changing world of work. That entails everything from stressing competency in applied math to honing the “soft” skill of working well as part of a team. Doing this is really a matter of dollars and cents to households, this region, state and nation.

At a forum last month on “preparing students for tomorrow’s workforce,” Georgia Partnership for Excellence in Education President Stephen D. Dolinger told attendees that, “We know that good education is good economic development.”

Sound research bears out this thesis. A new study by the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce documents substantially greater earnings for the average person who completes some form of job-related training after high school. That’s not to devalue the long-lauded pursuit of a four-year, or even two-year, college degree. It’s simply about providing more choices and options — recognizing, for example, that some engineers drive spreadsheets and others drive trains. Both are pretty well-paid, especially when compared with those who lack marketable skills.

Georgia seems to be focusing on tactics to school a better workforce. Gov. Nathan Deal’s Georgia Competitiveness Initiative’s final report rightly concludes that, “A supportive business climate, sound economic development strategy, and world-class infrastructure are of little value to business without a dependable pipeline of qualified workers.”

Other relatively new efforts, such as Go Build Georgia and Complete College Georgia, also seem focused on laudable ends. The state Department of Education is crafting curricula that will better groom students for the breadth of careers available to those completing some form of training or certification. The Georgia Department of Labor’s workforce training programs have won national acclaim.

Together, these efforts and others can form a powerful strategy for building our state’s economy and helping lower a still-high unemployment rate.

Doing so will require a commitment to stay the course. There should be no other option, really, and voters should demand as much.

It will do little good, for example, to launch promising initiatives and subsequently starve them through chronic underfunding.

Alan Essig, executive director of the Georgia Budget and Policy Institute, noted in introducing the GBPI’s recent analysis of state education spending that “persistent cuts to public education undermine efforts undertaken by the state to build a more educated and skilled workforce that attract good-paying jobs to the state.” He’s right.

Demanding accountability from dollars expended by government is a good thing. Yet, making politically motivated cuts or other damaging changes to our public education system will produce a bang for the buck, too — a negative one that hinders our ability to attract good jobs.

Helping our workers and future workers do the best job possible of preparing for productive employment will prove a sound economic investment. We can’t stop rowing toward that destination.

Andre Jackson, 
for the Editorial Board

Our shortcomings cast long shadow

By Ed Rust Jr.

Warnings have been in place for decades. Now the realities are all too visible.
In a U.S. economy where many people can’t find work, millions of jobs are unfilled because applicants lack necessary skills and knowledge.
Our workers used to be the best-prepared in the world. That’s no longer true. A growing number of countries have overtaken us in terms of the percentage of young people entering the workforce with what they need to be productive and competitive in a global economy that’s in transition.
On average, young Americans entering the workforce are not as well educated as older Americans leaving it. Many other countries’ students know and can do more when they emerge from high school or its equivalent. Meanwhile our fastest-growing demographic groups have some of the worst dropout rates. The future for the million American kids who dropped out of high school this past year is not good.
To those who just graduated from high school, congratulations. But it’s only the first step. You’re smart if you’re planning to acquire the technical skills and knowledge, the ability to engage in critical thinking and analytical reasoning that so many of today’s good jobs demand.
We need you in America’s workforce. Some of our aging baby boomers may be delaying their retirement because of current economic conditions, but eventually they’ll step away. In fact, we expect 40 percent of the U.S. workforce to retire over the next five years.
What kind of workers will replace them? Where will the U.S. stand in the global economy if we don’t have skilled and knowledgeable people to take their place?
Last month I had the opportunity to participate in a meeting of the Georgia Partnership for Excellence in Education, a group determined to improve achievement of all this state’s students as an investment in its future.
When the U.S. Education Department gave the state a waiver from some of the requirements of the No Child Left Behind law, it presented Georgia with an opportunity. But with opportunity comes responsibility.
The waiver means Georgia school officials have flexibility in how they foster and measure student growth and achievement. They can demonstrate how they can improve on what the federal reforms did to put some focus on accountability and teacher preparation. They should not see the waiver as an opportunity to relax (loosen) the definition of what constitutes academic success or reduce the urgency that’s clearly required.
Up until very recently, every generation of Americans has enjoyed a better quality of life than preceding generations. That record is at risk and, subsequently, so is our country’s long-term economic and social well-being.
A quality education for every young person is good for them and critical to our nation’s future.

Rust is chairman and CEO of State Farm and chairman of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

Reforming our 
k-12 system is key

By George P. Shultz and Eric A. Hanushek

In addressing our current fiscal and economic woes, too often we neglect a key ingredient of our nation’s economic future — the human capital produced by our k-12 school system. An improved education system would lead to a dramatically different future for the United States, because educational outcomes strongly affect economic growth and the distribution of income.

Over the past half-century, countries with higher math and science skills have grown faster than those with lower-skilled populations.

In comparing gross domestic product per-capita growth rates between 1960 and 2000 with results of international math assessment tests, what stands out is that countries follow a nearly straight line that slopes upward — as scores rise, so does economic growth. Peru, South Africa and the Philippines are at the bottom; Singapore and Taiwan, the top.

The U.S. growth rate lies above the line because — despite the more recent shortcomings of our schools — we’ve long benefited from our commitment to the free movement of labor and capital, strong property rights, a limited degree of government intrusion in the economy, and strong colleges and universities. But each of these advantages has eroded considerably and should not be counted on to keep us above the line in the future.

Current U.S. students — the future labor force — are no longer competitive with students across the developed world. In “advanced” performance on math, 16 countries produced twice as many high achievers per capita than the U.S. did.

If we accept this level of performance, we will surely find ourselves on a low-growth path.

The drag on growth is by no means the only problem produced by our lagging education system. Greater educational disparity leads to greater income-distribution disparity. If we fail to reform our k-12 education system, we’ll be locking in inequality problems that will plague us for decades if not generations to come.

Take our own state of California. Once a leader in education, it is now ranked behind 40 other U.S. states in math achievement, placing it at the level of Greece and foreshadowing a bleak future of ballooning debt and growing income disparity.

Anyone worried about income disparity in America should be deeply disturbed. The failure of the k-12 education system for so many students means that issues associated with income distribution — including higher taxes and less freedom in labor and capital markets — will be an ever-present and distressing aspect of our future.

Examples abound of the ability to make sharp improvements in our k-12 system. By not insisting on immediate and widespread reform we are forgoing substantial growth in our standard of living. The problem is obvious. The stakes are enormous. The solutions are within our reach.

George Shultz, former U.S. Secretary of State, is a distinguished senior fellow at the Hoover Institution. Eric A. Hanushek is a senior fellow at Hoover. This column is a condensed version of one that originally appeared in The Wall Street Journal.

8 comments Add your comment

crankee-yankee

June 10th, 2012
6:52 pm

A recent article in one of my professional publications (ACTE) indicated many employers do not see a problem with the skills kids have when they get out of school and enter the workforce. What they DO have a problem with is a lack of a well developed WORK ETHIC. Employers who were asked said they would bypass more skill-qualified applicants for someone with a proven work ethic. Ethics such as integrity, honesty, getting to work on time, working a full 8 hours, not dropping what they are doing to read a text message (I could go on). They are willing to train an unskilled but proven worker rather than roll the dice on an unknown.

I just visited with my cousin who is a MSgt in the Airforce reserve and she agreed that this is a problem she deals with on a daily basis with young recruits. There seems to be a mindset with many kids nowadays that comes from who knows where, an expectation of entitlement. I submit it is not the quality of the education kids are getting so much as expectations & attitudes once they they hit the workplace.

Why have they not developed these ethics? Work ethics had been taught in Career & Technical Education classes since long before I was in HS. These classes are now being dropped because decision-makers fail to see the direct & immediate connections to workplace needs. If a class is not college prep it is on the chopping block when things get tough. High schools are becoming little academies as true comprehensive schools are becoming extinct. Students not aiming for college have no preparation for entering the workforce. The problem needs to be addressed at the local level through CTAE classes being recognized the value they contribute.

n

June 10th, 2012
1:02 pm

May I interject?I may? Let us be realistic, where is there a plethora of good schools for post h.s. graduates? It is New England states. There is Harvard,Yale, Princeton plus many smaller albeit expensive colleges. This is known as the educational, cultural center.
Georgia is several eons away from the center. Georgia should focus on what they have always been about, transportation and agriculture. You see my drift? Have to go with what you have. Also, tourism along the coast.
Do not spend a whole lot of time on higher education.
Personally, I see casinos and river boat gambling along with a new deep water port at Savannah as the way to untold riches. Wait until Mitt Romney gets elected President and the focus on all the heretofore mentioned.

Dr. Craig Spinks/ Georgians for Educational Excellence

June 9th, 2012
7:21 pm

When 50% of the GA HS grads who apply for jobs with Georgia Power can’t pass its academic screening test, our PubEd system has problems not amenable to quick, easy or pleasant solutions.

By the way, I didn’t dream up the stat presented above. Paul Bowers, CEO of Georgia Power, provided it at last month’s quarterly meeting of the Georgia Partnership for Excellence in Education.

Hillbilly D

June 9th, 2012
2:08 pm

If companies can’t find workers, perhaps they need to offer better salaries?

A lot of them only believe in supply and demand, when it works in their favor.

Retired Vet

June 9th, 2012
12:06 pm

I work in employment services and daily when I ask job seekers what are their primary skills they often look at me as if I’m speaking Greek. Most will stammer out “you know” this that and the other. No I do not know. I just met you, and that is why I’m asking you.

DeborahinAthens

June 9th, 2012
6:26 am

We have to encourage the kids from Kindergarten to learn math and science. It seems that we encourage our little darlings to always take the easy road. When kids get to college and start out with the tough majors, they fail. How many of these unprepared childlike humans hit the wall, realizing quickly that they are not “special” after all. The first thing they do is dumb down their major. That’s why we are graduating useless people with useless skills. Then, at the other end, we push too many kids into college when they should learn technical skills, but, these kids balk when they realize that welders and machinists have to work–hard.

dc

June 8th, 2012
11:22 pm

I’m guessing you haven’t tried to hire folks lately for basic customer service or sales jobs. The issue is simple…..too many people don’t know how to deal with customers……where sometimes you get “disrespected”, and you have to deal with it. And others don’t realize that, when you have a job, you show up on time EVERY day….not 4 out of 5 days. The stuff that those of us who have been working a long time just take for granted…that is missing from so many who are having trouble holding onto the most basic of jobs (or even getting through the interview).

Sad Old Refrain

June 8th, 2012
9:39 pm

“In a U.S. economy where many people can’t find work, millions of jobs are unfilled because applicants lack necessary skills and knowledge.”

Boo hoo! If companies can’t find workers, perhaps they need to offer better salaries? It’s simple economics. Let’s say I search for an entry-level engineering job that pays $250K+ annually and can’t find one. Should I then conclude that there’s a shortage of engineering positions? No. I should adjust my expectations to include a more realistic level of compensation.