The Poorly (Ill) Prepared Workforce in the United States
Education is and will remain to be the best investment in children in the world. Being the leading nation in the world, United States is one of the leading countries in terms of investing in education for US children. However, the question that still bogs is whether the investment in education in the United States is giving the desired outcomes. The billions of dollars invested in the education sector each year have to be replicated in the people who leave schools and join the workforce. Many people are arguing that a big gap still exists between the demands in the labor industry and people who join the workforce from schools. Employers continue to complain about the type of workforce that they receive from academic institution. They term it as ‘half baked’ (Cote & Godfrey, 1999). Education is meant to equip students with life and vocational skills to enable them to easily adapt to different situations and condition in life. However, this has been argued not to be the case. The total skills are not instilled in the students who end up finding it hard to adapt to tough conditions in the economy or the workforce (Wentzel, 2008).
Workforce Preparation in the United States
Most of the workers in the United States fall in the age bracket of the people who are nearing retirement age. With this being a reality, the industry continues to demand for more people or employees to replace the aging workforce. The aging workforce is considered to be experienced and equipped with the skills that are needed in the industry. While this is so, a big gap in knowledge and experience does exist between these employees and those who should replace them (Clagett, 2006).
Workforce preparation is a very elaborate term. It is used together with other terms for instance school-to-work development, career development and youth transitions. It is often used in describing programs which are aimed at helping the young generation to get basic skills, exploring career opportunities and gaining experience in the workforce (‘Workforce management’, 2003). These programs are found both in schools and outside schools. General educational programs are found in schools. In such programs, curriculums are used in addressing skills as well as traits that are needed for specific jobs. Work-based programs allow students to work at job-sites requiring the knowledge and skills attained from the institutions of learning. We also have got other programs which are designed to aid young people in exploiting the career opportunities which are at their disposal and which helps them plan for their future. Such programs rest on one assumption – work and school successes are interrelated and interdependent (Clagett, 2006).
A major concern over workforce preparation is that it constrain the opportunities of students in more so the adolescents and those students in early adulthood. Such students need to be offered chances of exploring opportunities in the education and working world. The other concern in workforce preparation is the shrinking of work opportunities. While the economy has to offer job opportunities for people leaving school, the number of jobs being provided by the US economy cannot meet the demand. This raises questions on what education should do to address the problem. Educational institutions are called upon to prepare the students with this reality. Successful programs on workforce preparation encourage the exploration of careers. They teach students career-related skills which are necessary for success. The skills that are gotten prepare the students for different careers. What needs to be comprehended is that school-to-work transition is a process that develops gradually. It starts in the early stages of schooling and goes up to the time the students graduate from high school (Berkeley & Rose, 2006).
Employers and workforce – the dilemma
Workforce talent is an important issue in the competitiveness of the United States in business globally. The number of complains from employers about the new workforce entrants in the United States have been alarming. While many school leavers are absorbed in the workforce, the experience with this workforce by the employers is that they are poorly equipped for work. They often require additional investment by the firms hiring them to improve on their work readiness skills. Many employers or companies in the United States provide remedial training to upgrade the new entrants to work standards. The results attained from the trainings are not very satisfactorily. This indicates a big readiness gap between the new entrants and the requirements of the work market. The cost of training the new entrants has been on the rise which further raises the question whether this is the way to go for companies (The Conference Board, n. d).
Many scholars and academic theorists and research institutions have thus focused research on this issue. A collaborative research was done by a number of institutions examining the corporate practices behind the training of newly hired graduates in the Unites States. The collaborative institutions in this research were The American Society for Training and Development, The Corporate Voices for Working Families, The Conference Board and the Society for Human Resource Management. In this research, 217 employers were surveyed to ascertain how they go about in training their newly acquired staffs. The newly acquired graduates were grouped into three levels of education, high school, two-year after high school and those that has spend four years in college. About half of the employers who were surveyed confirmed that they offered remedial training to newly recruited employees. The aim of this according to the employers is to eliminate deficiencies amongst the newly hired workers by equipping them with the skills that are needed in the work environment. Most of the companies that conduct such programs find them to be ‘somehow’ successful. The programs do not bring out full results; they only serve to sustain the employees in business. Employers are not able to report the amount of resources that are invested in training programs for the new entrants. However, is evident that a lot of resources go into baking the new entrants from the time they are absorbed to the time when they are considered to be ready for work (The Conference Board, n. d).
There are various programs that have been set up in academic institutions. These programs address several emergent needs in the work environment such as leadership, teamwork skills and information technology. However, there is inadequacy in applied skills which are the most essential according to the employers. These skills include the problem solving and critical thinking skills. These skills enable the work entrants to use basic knowledge that is acquired in schools to perform well in the workplace. Most employers – more than 40 per cent of the employers who show a ‘high need’ for applied skills do not offer them to the new entrants. Firms also fall short of programs of encouraging creative skills of the new entrants. This is disturbing given the fact that creativity brings about innovation which in turn brings about success in business especially so in the competitive marketplace in the US. This does not mean that the basic skills that are taught in schools are not important. They are very essential in developing the critical skills. However, we still have numerous gaps in developing even the basic skills of writing, comprehension and mathematics which is the main responsibility of the schools. There are still many critical questions left to be answered on the difference in skills required in the workplace and how schools can address this. Also, the essence of the workplace environment in shaping the workforce comes into picture here (Stull, 2003).
The American educational system has paid very less focus on vocational training. Vocational training helps to instill a certain level of dependency in students since it equips them with life skills. Life skills help in generating extra income for the students. Most people have pointed out that the current education system only focuses on preparing students for white collar employment. The students grow to be so much dependent on support for their parents and bank hopes on being employed. As they leave schools and join the job market, they have high hopes of being employed. Because they have not perfected in any vocational skill which could help them generate income to sustain them, they easily get frustrated. This happens in cases where their skills and experience from school cannot befit the workforce experience needed in the job market. With billions of money being spent in the education sector, there is a call for the change in educational programs. There is a need to balance between the vocational training in educational institutions and the soft education. The workplace needs people who are strong enough to adapt to the tough environment, such people are those that have undergone vocational training skills. They often posses high levels of resilience which befits them to the competitive working environment (Stull, 2003).
Many social schemes have come up. There are many insurance programs and schemes in the United States most of which are aimed at securing families. The security of children is part of what is covered in the social protection schemes. Many families are working in ensuring that the future of their children is secured – in health, academic, even economic security among others. This puts children in comfort zone and kills the zeal in them to work for their needs or the future. The children are overprotected which kills creativity and even closes them to open learning. They grow knowing that everything for them is guaranteed therefore they cannot resist even small pressures requiring critical thinking at the workplace. They can keep their new found employment for long. The sense of responsibility is not cultivated in them which make them less likely to be good managers (Ryker & Rogers, (2009).
In the recent times, the United States education system has come under sharp criticism from the industry. The education system is critiqued for its inability to keep at per with the changing knowledge needs of the country. It does not provide students and workers with the knowledge and skills that are required for successful competition in the global economy of the 21st century which is technical oriented Many changes are taking place in the manufacturing industry which requires not only technical but also interpersonal skills in supporting the growing industries. Executives from the small and medium sized firms in the manufacturing industry see most of the graduates lacking the basic skills required for employment. The small and medium manufacturing firms in the United States employ approximately 8 million people. They however continue to search for skills workers who have the ability to perform in the workplace environment which is more sophisticated (Ryker & Rogers, 2009).
The US economy demands for infrastructural development as a guider to economic actualization. This requires science, technology, engineering and mathematics graduates – STEM. These graduates are needed to supply the economy with workers who are technologically proficient. However, the academic institutions produce a slim number of such graduates. It has been established that many students in the middle and high schools in the United States do not have a strong grasp of the reading and writing skills. This translates to their lack of STEM skills. These skills are need in succeeding in post post-secondary and the larger labor industry in the world. Many students drop academics at the high school level. Also, many high school graduates do not get enrolled for postsecondary education. This is a swelling challenge and there is need for in helping the students to get skills and knowledge required to deal with the challenges of the 21st century (‘Work in America: 1’, 2003).
Collective efforts are required from all sectors in order to properly code education so that it can fit and meet the needs in the labor industry. The stakeholders must be drawn from the business, government, non- profit sector, education, labor, trade and other professional associations. The collaboration has to take place at all the levels of the government – the state, federal and the local levels. Matching the needs in the labor industry and the graduates from schools is a public policy issue (Hunt, 2010). It is thus being approached with a comprehensive look which includes developing policies that are aimed at upgrading the quality of education. The policies should also provide channels of tailoring education in schools so that it can meet the demands of the work industry in the country. These policies are contained in what id referred to as the ‘America 21st Century Learning System. This contains many studies and recommendations which can be used as a basis on which better informed policies can be developed. Part of the recommendations in the America 21st century learning system is that all students graduating from high schools must have a strong mastery of the academic and competencies at the workplace. Also the document highlights the need for strengthening counseling programs for students in the delicate grades – 7 to 12. This is an enabler for graduates to joining or accessing post-secondary schools and productive employment. Perhaps, the overall recommendation in the document is that there is need for periodic rethinking and changing the learning paradigms. This will help in absorbing new ideas which are critical in capturing the emerging needs in the academic sector (Hunt, 2010).
There is a serious gap between the demands in the workforce of the US and the kind of graduates meant to join the workforce. Most of the blame for this is laid on the educational department. They academic institutions are criticized for failing to fully instill skills in the students. The social setup of the American Society also contributes to this problem. However, this has been found to be an elaborate problem which requires concerted efforts by different organizations. The problem can be best solved by developing policies and collective implementation of these policies.
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