Magazine article Policy & Practice

America Works: Education and Training for Tomorrow's Jobs

Magazine article Policy & Practice

America Works: Education and Training for Tomorrow's Jobs

Article excerpt

Preparing America's workforce to keep pace and stay competitive is an issue that not only calls for national attention, it also demands gubernatorial leadership. Ensuring our states' and citizens' future economic security will require significant improvements to our education systems and workforce training programs. It also will require closer relationships among our high schools, colleges, workforce training providers, and employers. Governors are uniquely positioned to foster a conversation among business, education, and the public sector about how to best prepare America's students to get good jobs and stay competitive in our global economy. That is why I have chosen to focus my 2013-14 National Governors Association Chair's Initiative on America Works: Education and Training for Tomorrow's Jobs.

Improving our education and workforce training systems is essential to ensure a bright future for our children and to strengthen our state economies.

Why? Because highly educated and trained workers typically are more productive than those with less education and training. More productive workers generally earn higher incomes, which benefits not only them but also their state's economy.

States are often limited in their ability to increase worker productivity directly, except for the substantial role governors play in improving the quality of the education pipeline. On average, states account for 43 percent of all spending on elementary and secondary education and direct 58 percent of spending on public postsecondary education. When governors establish policies and allocate funds to raise the educational attainment of their current and future workforce, they expand economic opportunities both for individuals and their states' overall economy.

Navigating today's pathways to prosperity is much more challenging than when our parents went to school. For most of the last century, Americans led the world in educational attainment. That's why it became known as the American Century, when the United States leveraged its broad educational base and other resources to lead the world in economic growth, wealth creation, and technological innovation.

But, consider this: 50 years ago, nearly 80 percent of all jobs required only a high-school diploma or less, and most of those jobs paid a good wage. Today, that number has dwindled down to 35 percent-those jobs available to high-school graduates and dropouts-and more than two-thirds of them pay less than $25,000 a year.

A high-school diploma is no longer enough to guarantee a good job and a middle-class life. The "new minimum" for economic success is either a twoor four-year college degree or a relevant workforce certificate. Without some kind of postsecondary education, far too many of our children and working adults will find it hard to achieve the American Dream and access a fulfilling middle-class life or beyond.

What's more, the path we are on will lead our nation to fall behind in global economic competition. Today, the United States trails 11 other developed nations in postsecondary attainment among those age 25 to 34. Our country has fallen even farther behind in the percentage of young adults graduating from high school, trailing 21 developed nations. Even more startling are the results of the 2012 Program for International Student Assessment exam, which measures the performance of 15-year-olds in 65 countries. U.S. students ranked 20th, 23rd, and 30th in reading, science, and math, respectively, a decline in each subject area.

We cannot expect to lead the world in innovation or job creation if we cannot keep up academically.

Falling behind academically will continue to hurt our businesses, many of which are struggling to find qualified workers despite the nation's high unemployment rate. Although a skills mismatch problem has always been a constraint for growing businesses, the current mismatch is limiting both economic growth and the ability of many people to achieve their personal potential and a higher standard of living. …

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