Tuesday, December 29, 2009

American Competitiveness: An Educated Work Force

It takes three components to make a country competitive in the world economy: an educated work force, a sound infrastructure, and pro-business policies. I wish to address the make up of the work force.

The nation needs a workforce with a range of capabilities, but there are minimum standards that should be attained when a person graduates high school. Everyone should be able to read a newspaper and comprehend what was written. Everyone should be able to read and understand instructions for the common things they will encounter in their lives: cars, refrigerators, computers… They must have a basic understanding of math. Arithmetic should be second nature, with the ability to spot an obvious mistake. Everyone should have some grounding in algebra and geometry. Some understanding of statistics is important, at least so they can understand what they read, hear and see  in the media. They should be able to speak and write grammatically correct English. Lastly, they must be as comfortable with computers as possible. This is the minimum necessary for economic competitiveness; I do feel more is necessary to make people good citizens – but not much more.

Post-high-school education should consist of two tracks. One track should teach the technical skills necessary to teach people how to grow, make and fix things. The other track (which today seems like the only track, or the only “desirable” track) should train people for the professions: engineering, law, medicine… As I’ve said in many other posts, we need more people who can figure out how to grow things, make things and move things than we do MBAs, lawyers, game programmers, YouTube video contributors, and – dare I say it – creative writers.

However, education is not the silver bullet to increasing American competitiveness. It is necessary, but not sufficient. Other countries have plenty of smart people – and in the case of China and India, way more of them.

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