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The nation’s unemployment rate crept back up to 9.1 % last month, a disheartening figure for the many Americans looking for work. But there is another problem: a number of employers would like to hire but can’t find qualified applicants. The gap between applicant qualifications and the skills required for many of the available jobs is growing. Recent studies show that American students have fallen behind their counterparts in other countries in math and science skills, and this is happening as many companies, especially manufacturers, rely on an increasingly skilled workforce. Join us for a conversation about the challenge of educating for the jobs of today
- Emily DeRocco Manufacturing Institute, research arm of the National Association of Manufacturing
- Gary Green President, Forsyth Technical Community College, Winston-Salem, North Carolina
- Byron Auguste Senior partner, McKinsey & Company
- Michael Davidson Senior analyst, Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. In today's economic climate, we hear a lot about the challenges faced by job seekers. But employers have challenges as well. There is a growing gap between job skills required and the training students can get in high school, community colleges and even four-year institutions.
MS. DIANE REHMJoining me to talk about what employers are looking for and how students can better prepare: Emily DeRocco of The Manufacturing Institute, Byron Auguste of McKinsey & Company -- that's a global consulting firm. Joining us from Winston-Salem, N.C., Gary Green. He's president of Forsyth Technical Community College.
MS. DIANE REHMI do look forward to hearing your questions and comments. Join us on 800-433-8850. Send your email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Join us on Facebook or send us a tweet. Good morning to all of you.
MS. EMILY DEROCCOGood morning.
MR. BYRON AUGUSTEGood morning.
REHMByron, if I could start...
MR. GARY GREENGood morning.
REHM...with you, how many jobs would you estimate are going unfilled because there are not sufficient numbers of people with the skills to fill them?
AUGUSTEWell, Diane, it's a significant number. Even in this very difficult recession, with a lot more people looking for work than there are jobs out there, in the health care professions and in the engineering professions, there are at least 800,000 jobs that are unfilled, which is to say there are at least 800,000 more positions that employers are searching for than there are workers with those skills looking for those positions.
REHMAnd what about in the manufacturing sector?
DEROCCOTrue in the manufacturing sector as well. The Department of Labor, March reported about 228,000 manufacturing jobs going unfilled, this at a time that we clearly had unemployed workers and underemployed workers. But the mismatch in their education and skills with the high tech skill requirements in today's advanced manufacturing sector is simply something we have to address.
REHMGary Green, how would you address the problem? What is the Forsyth Technical Community College doing to address that?
GREENWell, I think this skills gap is certainly sort of the main issue that we're facing. As we make a transition in our community, in our region, from legacy industries and legacy jobs that are oftentimes low skills to the higher level skills, such as Byron just mentioned in health and engineering, the challenge is, oftentimes, workers coming out of those legacy industries have basic skill deficiencies. They may not have graduated from high school.
GREENThey may need support to get into programs to prepare them for health technologies, advanced manufacturing and other jobs that are being created in our economy today such as green jobs. So it is that gap, and, oftentimes, it is the community college that's stepping in and filling that gap, not only here in North Carolina in Winston-Salem but across the country.
GREENAnd we're doing that by more focus on bringing together Adult Basic Education skills, working very hard to bring up developmental skills, prepare people for college-level work who may not be prepared.
REHMNow, I gather there's another situation, which is you got a whole bunch of 55 and older people ready to retire from many of those manufacturing jobs, many of the other jobs as well, Byron.
AUGUSTEYes, that's right. If you look across many of the engineering-intensive professions -- it's certainly true in manufacturing -- some of the highest caliber workforce are in their 50s or even early 60s and on the verge of retirement. And there is going to be a need to refill those jobs and, indeed, upgrade the skills.
DEROCCOActually, in manufacturing today, we're looking at 2.7 million workers who are in that baby boomer retirement-eligible age group. And that is a big gap to fill in manufacturing across everything from skilled production to our engineers responsible for innovation.
REHMNow, isn't there an effort on the part of some corporations, some manufacturing groups to partner with institutions to try to educate for the jobs that they need?
DEROCCOActually, that is a very important initiative that's underway nationwide. The Manufacturing Institute, which is an affiliate of the National Association of Manufacturers that hosts 12,000 manufacturing members, in fact, is partnering with community colleges all across the country to take industry-recognized, nationally portable manufacturing skills credentials right into the degree programs in community colleges.
DEROCCOSo workers can quickly get a college credential that is directly aligned to the skills that manufacturers in their community need.
REHMGive me some examples, Byron.
AUGUSTEWell, I -- Emily has just given a great example. And I just want to underscore the importance of what she said, which is that these are industry-recognized skills, so skills and certification that are recognized throughout the industry...
AUGUSTEWhich means that they are portable. So, Emily, do you want to give some examples?
DEROCCOAbsolutely. For example, in then the technical skills area, our manufacturers, regardless of whether they're in aerospace or biopharma, automotive or machining, they need some core production skills, like health and safety, technology systems. They supply chain management. They need machining and metal-forming skills, and the ever-popular welding skills, which in some states now brings $70,000 a year as a starting salary.
DEROCCOSo these are very high-tech technical skills that are -- as we call them, they are the applied STEM skills. They are the Science, Technology, Engineering and Math skills that individuals actually learn in a project-based or performance-based environment.
REHMGary Green, what about the Forsyth Technical Community College? Are you partnering with any specific manufacturing firms? Oh, dear. Have we lost him? I'm afraid so.
DEROCCOI might be able to help him.
DEROCCOGary's college, actually, is one of four lead colleges across America, in North Carolina, Ohio, Texas and Washington state, that have been the first to deploy the NAM-endorsed Manufacturing Skills Certification System with support from The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation in their education reform efforts. And so Gary's college really is totally integrated -- the manufacturing skill certification system into four of his associate degree programs of study.
REHMSo, are there other learning institutions around the country, Byron, doing the same kind of thing?
AUGUSTEAbsolutely, there are. I mean, there are partnerships in many industries. So, for example, you might call out the Minnesota Job Skills Partnership in the state of Minnesota that is also working with community colleges and businesses to retrain workers. This is -- it's got a big manufacturing component. But what I'd really like to underscore is two features of these programs that are so important.
AUGUSTEFirst of all, in community colleges, many students, as Gary mentioned before, arrive in community colleges with the need of some remediation...
AUGUSTE...because their high school education wasn't really up to snuff, not to what employers need. But we know that if you just put people in remedial education, give them remedial classes before you allow them to go on to their program of study, five out of six never go on to their program of study. It's a very depressing statistic.
AUGUSTEBut if you integrate remediation into real job skills so that those students can see that they're making some progress and they're getting real skills that will allow them to be employed as their basic skills are remediated, those programs are much more successful.
REHMGary Green, how much time do you have to spend on remediation? I'm afraid we have lost him again.
DEROCCOLet me emphasize, on Gary's behalf and for all the community colleges that are working with us on the manufacturing skills credentialing system, our foundational credential, Diane, is something called the National Career Readiness Certificate that ACT actually manages. And that National Career Readiness Certificate is -- in support of those remediation efforts, it's focused on the reading, applied math...
DEROCCO...and locating and using information that so many students today are not getting in their high school experience that's critical, certainly, for any student who's dropped out.
REHMIt would seem as though, rather than focusing on the community colleges, you've got to go back to the high school level.
DEROCCOIt is absolutely critical that this nation deal with the failures of K-12. Thirty percent of our young people in the K-12 public school system are not graduating from high school on time. In large measure, we believe these students don't find their studies relevant to real life and the careers they're seeking.
DEROCCOAnd we have such a huge deficit, particularly in math and science, which is so critical to manufacturers in every sector of our economy, that we must actually declare war on math remediation in this country because otherwise it becomes an under preparation tax for all of our colleges.
REHMAll right. We'll take a short break here. When we come back, we'll talk more about the jobs that are out there just waiting for you. Short break, right back.
REHMWelcome back. We are talking about jobs that are waiting for the taking out there. But, unfortunately, the educational skills to move into those jobs are not there, creating a huge gap in what is needed for manufacturing, what is needed for employment. Why this has happened in this last decade is really a mystery to me. Emily, how do you see it?
DEROCCOWell, I think it's a mystery to all of us, whether it's professionally or as parents. Somehow, we've gotten to the point where young people are not required to take four years of math and science and English in their secondary school experience. Perhaps there are too many electives. Perhaps we have not associated requirements in jobs and careers to the pathways that students take in education.
DEROCCOIt is critically important, and it's why manufacturers have stepped up to the plate in a major student outreach campaign to high schools, and even middle schools, to advise young people, stay in math, stay in science. Because if you want to be in advanced manufacturing, turning your ideas into the next great products -- and we must remain a country that makes things -- then you don't want to close those doors to that kind of career.
REHMByron, is there some feeling on the part of young students that these manufacturing jobs are somehow beneath them and that what they're aiming for are four-year degrees and then perhaps law school or medicine rather than going into the manufacturing sector?
AUGUSTEI do think that our education system and our society and our culture undervalues vocational work. And I think that our education system -- if you look at our higher education system, if you're planning to go in a four-year degree, the path is sort of clear, but if you want to take another course and get into the vocations, it's not as clear what you do.
AUGUSTEUnlike some other countries -- like Germany, for example -- where there are very clear pathways into manufacturing professions, into vocations of all sorts, apprenticeships and the like, I think our system is very uneven in that respect. It's quite difficult for a student to navigate. And I do believe there's a perception that there aren't good jobs coming from vocational degrees. But as we've heard, there absolutely are.
AUGUSTEAnd that's true not only in manufacturing. I would say that's also true, for example, in health care. That's another field, growing very rapidly, where there are hundreds of thousands of open jobs today that can't be filled. Some of them, of course, demand lots of education, like physicians. Others are more medical technicians, nurse practitioners, physicians' assistants -- a variety of jobs that actually present, also, a career path through the field.
REHMAll right. Here's a posting on Facebook, which says, "We sing a mixed tune about engineering education. To hear the media tell it, engineers write their own tickets, yet I am an unemployed engineer in a great company of unemployed engineers. A rare commodity? Able to get middle-class employment because of my education? Nope. That exists in the medical field. As for bankers and stock brokers, a couple of good years, and they can retire."
REHM"You never hear about engineers' bonuses. If you're an engineer, chances are you know quite a few out-of-work engineers." Emily.
DEROCCOInterestingly, our engineers have tended to, in recent years, specialize, not unlike other professions. And we did see, for example, with the dot-com bust, a lot of software engineers that found themselves unemployed or underemployed.
DEROCCOWe are working very closely with the key engineering schools and universities all across this country and with their professional societies, like the Society of Manufacturing Engineers, to get to the core and foundational skill sets that will also allow our professional engineers to cut across sectors and have opportunities for a career lifetime, whether it be in aerospace or biopharma or alternative energy in the growth sectors of manufacturing.
REHMHere's an email from Joe in Silver Spring, Md. "The solution is both trivial and profound. The problem will be solved when the high school math team has the same prestige as the high school football team." Byron.
AUGUSTEWell, I certainly think those cultural factors do matter, and that we absolutely should be celebrating academic achievement...
REHMBut we're not.
AUGUSTE...more than we are. And I think that's a very important thing.
REHMAnd at the same time, the federal government is cutting funds. We are having more and more trouble funding public education. Emily.
DEROCCOI do want to remind us, however, that we spend over $600 billion a year on public education and another $15 billion or more on what we call workforce development in this country. So I really question whether there isn't enough money out there. We're just not spending it correctly.
REHMAll right. I'm going to try to open the phones here and see what happens. Let's go first to Michael in San Antonio. Good morning. Are you there?
MICHAELYes, ma'am, I am. Can you hear me?
REHMSure can. Go right ahead.
MICHAELOkay. When I was in high school, we had what they call vocational and technical classes. And then when my son was in high school, they didn't teach him anything but the (unintelligible) the texts that -- to get ahead. There's no child left behind. The kids are not getting reading, writing and arithmetic because they're only -- teachers are only teaching them just new text. And that's all I wanted to say, and I'll take my answer off the air.
REHMThanks for calling. Emily.
DEROCCOSince you're from San Antonio, I do want to mention that the Alamo colleges in San Antonio are one of our lead colleges in integrating the manufacturing skills certification system.
DEROCCOBut they have chosen to do it in two high school academies, one on advanced manufacturing, and one in aerospace, where in 11th and 12th grade, the integrated curriculum will result in their students graduating from what you and I know as high school with their high school diploma, their national career readiness certificate and a direct tie to an employer, and up to 30 credits toward their associate degree that they have earned via their technical skills development with the manufacturing credentials.
REHMYou know, when I was in high school, they had mechanical drawing. They had apprentice workshops. They had all kinds of vocational opportunities for boys and girls. That seems to have been lost by the boards. Byron.
AUGUSTEYes. I think we're starting to realize that, as a country, we have perhaps over-tilted towards this four-year education as the singular model, and that we had given short shrift to vocational and technical education. And we need to rebuild those pathways for career success for our young people. And I think there's also a bit of a mythology that vocational and technical education is, in some way, second tier in terms of its rigor. And that's entirely untrue.
AUGUSTEIf you look at the complexity, both from a reading and communications as well as mathematics standpoint for what's actually required in the modern workplace and advanced manufacturing and so forth, it's every bit as rigorous as what's required to succeed in a four-year college. It's just delivered in a different way that connects to some young people in a different way.
AUGUSTEAnd it also moves them forward, towards career opportunities that some of them are quite excited and passionate about.
REHMAnd let's see if we now have Gary Green back with us.
GREENYes. One of the things I think that we are seeing -- yeah, we are seeing a resurgence and increasing interest in bringing those technical skills and manufacturing skills and the kinds of thinking that's needed for those back into the high schools. And we're seeing in specialized programs, like at Alamo that Emily had mentioned -- I know in our community we're seeing that with the special academy about technology and IT and visualization in one of our high schools here.
GREENI think secondary vocational school will look different going forward because it will be around these academies and also contextualizing the work that happens in mathematics and sciences, especially in secondary education, to make sure, as we're teaching math, that what we're teaching is grounded in the real world with examples and problems that come directly out of the workplace and that prepares students better for understanding the kind of careers that are available to them in these areas.
AUGUSTEWell, I just want to underscore the importance of contextualizing math and sciences -- Gary was talking about -- and to say that this is going to apply not just to the professions that we think about as being technical professions. In the future, the use of mathematics and statistics is going to suffuse many different industries that we don't think about today.
AUGUSTEMcKinsey Global Institute just put out a report called Big Data, which is looking at the way that massive databases of customer information, supply chain information are changing business. And one of the conclusions is that we're going to need a couple million managers that have the facility to use data to make business decisions. And this is across all industries, retail, everything else, so upward mobility in those industries is going to require facility with mathematics.
REHMAnd joining us now is Michael Davidson. He is senior analyst at the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. Good morning to you, Michael.
MR. MICHAEL DAVIDSONGood morning. Good morning.
REHMI know that the OECD's recent analysis that compared the achievement of students from different countries surely does not paint a particularly positive picture for the U.S. Give us a sense of the numbers.
DAVIDSONWell, what you say is true. The study that we conduct every three years assesses reading, math and science literacy. So this is about not just what students have learned but what they are able to apply, how they're able to apply that knowledge in real-life situations. So just to give you some numbers, on the reading assessment, for U.S. students at aged 15 come out around the OECD average compared to other countries.
DAVIDSONScience literacy, again, around the OECD average. And, in fact, for mathematics, the performance of 15-year-olds in the U.S. is significantly below the OECD average. Now, we're able to compare trends over time because we've done this for occasions now, these tests. On reading, we see virtually no change over a 10-year period. In mathematics, a slight increase between the latest two assessments.
DAVIDSONBut still mathematics is relatively weak compared to other countries. And some improvement on science over the last three years also, so a mixed picture but not particularly a rosy one.
REHMSure. Yeah, and to what extent does this test that you've been giving take into consideration that some countries, for example, like the U.S., emphasize test-taking as opposed to problem-solving?
DAVIDSONWell, the test actually is more geared to a test or an assessment of what students can do with the knowledge they've learned, so it's not simply a curriculum test. It is about applying that knowledge in real-life situations. And there are some multiple choice questions, but there are also some open-ended questions, where we really try to get at the deep knowledge that students have got and how they can apply that in real-life situations.
DAVIDSONAnd there are countries who do very well in our test, who do not have a testing coach. Finland, for example, is one of the countries that tends to top this league table. They simply don't have a testing culture in their system. So we're -- if anything, we're gearing towards testing problem-solving skills, real-world application of knowledge.
REHMAnd what about the socioeconomic status of those young people taking the test?
DAVIDSONWell, we -- it's a random sample of 15-year-olds, so we got students from all corners of society. What we find, actually, for the United States is that the social background of a student has a stronger predictable quality in terms of the performance of the students. So, in other words, your social background is more likely to be a predeterminant of your success compared to other countries on average.
DAVIDSONAnd where we find countries that make progress in these tests over time, it's often by mitigating against those social disadvantages that has been the secret of their success for improving their scores over time.
REHMNow, you talked earlier about where the U.S. stands in math and sciences and the other subjects. Who's at the top?
DAVIDSONWell, among OECD countries, Korea is the top country in terms of reading and mathematics.
DAVIDSONKorea. Now, just to put this a little bit in perspective, the difference in the score that 15-year-olds have achieved in Korea compared to the U.S. is 39 score points on our test. Now, what does that mean? That represents about one year's worth of education. So you can put simply the fact that Korean students, at age 15, on average, are one year ahead of U.S. students on reading.
DAVIDSONThe position -- actually, the gap between the best performing countries and the U.S. is even larger when we look at mathematics and science, where that gap is actually more like one-and-a-half school years worth of education.
REHMWere does Finland come out in this?
DAVIDSONWell, Finland is the strongest country -- the OECD country on the science literacy assessment. So, again, they're scoring 50 points ahead of U.S. students, on average, one-and-a-half years worth of educational equivalent. And if we look outside of the OECD group of countries -- Shanghai, China, has participated for the first time in these studies.
DAVIDSONThey scored an incredibly high score across the board in reading, math and science so that the gaps between Shanghai, for example, and the U.S. is something of the order of over 100 points when it comes to mathematics. So, you know, that's almost three years' worth of education.
REHMSo what you're saying is that U.S. students would have to go to school three years longer to catch up with those in China?
DAVIDSONAnd as a simplistic assessment, the numbers are -- that's equivalent statement to make. That's right. And one of the -- I mean, we look at mathematics. We break down the performance.
DAVIDSONOne of the striking things in the U.S. and others, in the case in many of the countries not performing particularly well in mathematics, is that a quarter of the students are performing at a level that we regard in our assessments as below the level required to make a successful transition from high school into the labor market or into further study. So that's a large proportion. Twenty percent, in fact, are performing at that level where they're going to be challenged in whatever route they take beyond school.
REHMMichael Davidson, he's senior analyst at the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development. Thank you so much for joining us, sir. Short break. Right back.
REHMAnd before we go back to the phones, we've just heard from Michael Davidson of the OECD about the gap which exists between U.S. students in math and science skills and those in other -- not only OECD countries, but China as well. Byron, you were talking during the break about what that means economically to this country.
AUGUSTEYes. McKinsey did a study a couple of years ago on the economic cost of the achievement gap in America's schools. And I want to highlight the cost of two of the gaps that Michael mentioned. The first, he mentioned that in the U.S., our socioeconomic status differences matter more to educational outcomes than they do in other countries, and that's -- I mean, that's really a moral outrage.
AUGUSTEWe've got 17 or 18 countries in the OECD where the family we're born into matters less for your success than it does in the United States, which is meant to be the land of opportunity. But that costs all of us. We estimated that the achievement gaps by income in this country cost the country somewhere around $600 billion in economic output. That would be the equivalent of what used to be thought of as a big recession, that sort of early '90s or the 1980's recession.
AUGUSTEBut then this gap that Michael talks about between the U.S. and the best-performing countries in the world, that gap in achievement, we estimate that that accounts for somewhere between 9 and 16 percent of U.S. GNP. That's about $2 trillion. So in other words, that is as big a problem as the whole financial meltdown and great recession that we just experienced. It's just that it's an invisible problem.
AUGUSTEIt's one that eats away at the fabric of our economy, and it's one that we really have to get serious about tackling.
REHMOkay. Let's go to...
REHMYes, sir. Go ahead.
GREENOne thing that Michael said, certainly, I think, connects with we've been talking about, and that is that the assessments that OECD used determine what students could actually do. So as we talked earlier about contextualizing mathematics, making sure that we have applied principles in science and an understanding of hands-on work in manufacturing in these kinds of courses, that gets to what students can do.
GREENAlso, the skill certification, such as the Manufacturing Institute is working with community colleges and with trade associations like the American Welding Society and others, those are very much attuned to making sure that students can actually apply technical, scientific and mathematical learning. And it's really getting at the issue of what students can do, which is where we're seeing this gap in the OECD data.
REHMAll right. Let's take a call from Carrboro, N.C. Keira, you're on the air.
KEIRAHi. Yes. My name is Keira Freskin. (sp?) I'm 17. I'm a 17-year-old senior, and I go to Carrboro High School. And I've noticed that in my district, the classes that are really emphasized and -- are the AP and sort of college university prep classes. There's already a pretty big socioeconomic, as well as a racial, divide. And so students -- you know, the higher-income students are sort of pushed into the AP classes.
KEIRAAnd a lot of the lower-income students end up, you know, not doing very well in those classes. And because technical and career classes are given pretty low merit, there's not really another sort of opportunity for them or for the other students. I'm headed off to university next year. And just this year, I've been taking auto tech, which is, by far, my favorite class. And it's also the only sort of, I don't know, technical class that I've taken, practical class that I've taken my entire schooling career.
REHMGood for you, Keira. It does seem to me that every person -- not just every woman, but every person -- needs to understand how a car works, and you're certainly on the way. Emily.
DEROCCOKeira, there also will be jobs in the auto manufacturing and auto service areas that would love to reach out to you as a -- even a university student. Let me emphasize that it is very clear that across all business sectors, certainly in manufacturing as well, the vast majority of jobs do require some post-secondary education, so some education and training beyond high school today, about two-thirds of our jobs, but not necessarily a four-year degree.
DEROCCOTherefore, we have to really give students and parents and career counselors in the high school system much more information about career navigation and educational pathways.
DEROCCOWith the cost of college today...
DEROCCO...if they can get the degree they need in two years...
DEROCCO...as opposed to four or six, that's...
REHMKeira, what do you plan to study in college?
KEIRAI'm actually planning to go in education and try to maybe change some of the perceptions about these classes. So...
REHMGood for you.
KEIRA...I'm hoping to be a high school teacher.
REHMGood for you. Thanks for calling and sharing with us. Now, to Cleveland, Ohio. Good morning, Andrew.
ANDREWGood morning. I'm afraid I'm mirroring a bit of what the young lady you just had on was talking about. Going -- you know, you mentioned earlier on this program that this stigma has been existing for the past 10 years. I think it's been around a lot longer. I grew up in an agricultural area of western New York, and we were -- all the vocational classes were taught offsite in a different building.
ANDREWAnd as such, at one point in your sophomore year, I believe, you were given the choice. You could either do the vocational, or you could do, you know, the basic college prep stuff. And you had -- there was no option of doing both. And if you even inquired about it, you were told point-blank that those classes were pretty much for those kids. And it makes no sense to me that that stigma continues.
ANDREWAnd especially what the gentleman just said, with the cost of education being so high, why are we sending the kids after four-year degrees that accumulate a massive amount of debt, and then when they could have learned the skills in high school to become, you know, construction workers or, you know, working on automotive line during the summer and make a substantially greater wage?
ANDREWInstead, we're perfectly okay as a country watching our young people wallow in debt, trying to repay a college debt by working at Target.
DEROCCOOh, it's so right. We're all shaking our heads with you here in the studio. It is absolutely important for this nation to re-establish educational pathways that recognize competency-based education, not seat time, but mastery or proficiency of skills.
REHMWhat do you mean by seat time, Emily?
DEROCCOWell, if you stop and think about it, Diane, we run our entire public education system and even talk about it in terms of specific seat time, the proverbial sitting in a classroom. And our schedule for K-12, for example -- there you go. I just did it. It's built on the agricultural calendar so that we don't go to school in the summer when crops are being harvested, kind of that 19th century mentality.
DEROCCOOur classroom style is a 20th century industrial model of teacher with people in seats for exactly the same amount of time every year. And they must move through their standardized tests in order to complete a certain amount of time, whether it's K-12 or then two years in community colleges or four years in our colleges and universities. If we move to competency-based proficiency or mastery, this is what career and technical education is about and why other countries...
DEROCCO...and our competitors are, in fact, changing the way they're educating their students.
REHMAll right. To Jacksonville, Fla., good morning, Sean.
SEANHi. Good morning, Diane. I just had brief comment. I'm a former physicist, NASA employee, with a strong background in computer science. There's nothing I enjoy more than working on science, and I love the industry. However, due to the lowering of engineering salaries, the lack of R&D funding and H-1B visas that are depressing the wages for us, I found it more profitable and that I had more job security by opening a blue-collar company. And I think this is a systemic problem.
REHMWhat kind of a blue-collar company did you open, Sean?
SEANWell, it's not quite your standard trade. It's more of a tourism company. It's a very small, couple employee tourism-based company...
SEAN...which can't be outsourced or moved away.
REHMYeah. Yeah. Gary Green, do you want to comment?
GREENWell, I think that's not unusual today. One of the things that you're finding at community colleges is that we're increasingly becoming, in a way, the new graduate school, in that individuals who sometimes have baccalaureate degrees who are finding the economy -- the jobs are not growing in that area are finding some of these technical applied skills.
GREENAnd as the caller described as even blue-collar, though they're not all blue-collar jobs, those hands-on blue-collar jobs are now not only available, but are, really, skills that people can build good careers, good incomes and support themselves and their family in some ways better than some of the traditional jobs that we thought of as requiring college education. It goes back to that point of the new jobs in the economy.
GREENAs, I think, Emily or someone was saying earlier, the new jobs in the economy are not also always at that baccalaureate or post-baccalaureate level.
GREENBut they're at the technical level.
REHMHere's another perspective. James has said, "If industry wants a better prepared workforce, then industry should pay for the education. Here in Washington State," says James, "many of the very corporations who want properly prepared employees pay little or no taxes. As is always the case, they love to ship the cost of educating their workforces to the public sector." Byron, do you want to comment?
AUGUSTEWell, I think there are a number of ways that industry can make a difference here. First of all, I do think it's incredibly important that industry work very closely with the public university system and the public community college systems to make clear which skills are required and to work to establish these common standards, so that the money that is spent on education can be spent most cost-effectively.
AUGUSTEI think another thing that industry could do, and maybe it doesn't do enough, is to make clear that businesses are actually making their investment decisions based on the quality of the workforce in a given area. I think many people assume in the general public that all the business cares about is having low wages or low taxes. But, in fact, it's incredibly important to have a high-quality workforce for many different industries.
AUGUSTEAnd those are -- we know from our work with human resources professionals and companies and making investment decisions, that those are critical factors. I do think business could elevate that and make it more visible so that the public could see the importance of this.
REHMBut why is it that the, you know, foundations, like Bill and Melinda Gates, have to go in and provide that funding for special education to ensure that those high school students, for example, or even community college students, will come out with the education they need?
AUGUSTEWell, when a foundation, like the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, goes in and does this sort of creative collaboration between business and the public sector, they're serving as a catalyst to show how we can create new models. You can never expect private philanthropy to actually fund those models at scale. Ultimately, that funding will have to come from some mix of public sector and private sector.
AUGUSTEBut they play a very important role in catalyzing innovation and helping to show what can work.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Let's take a caller in Dallas, Texas. Good morning, Aaron.
AARONHi. Good morning, Diane. I was calling 'cause I was -- I'm a science teacher, ex-science teacher, and earlier when some of your commenter spoke about our math and science preparedness for our students and said that we didn't need four years. But in Texas, actually, we do require them to take four years of math and science in high school. My only point is that this doesn't help if we just relax the standards so that everyone passes.
AARONThere's a lot of institutional pressure to pass the students as long -- especially if they pass on our -- we call it the TAKS test down here. That's our standardized test. So, especially if they passed the standardized test, we get a lot of pressure to pass them, and passing on that test is only a 55.
AARONSo it's kind of a political -- there's a -- yeah, it's really, really bad. And so there's just a lot of political pressure, an institutional pressure, and, you know, counselors will sidle up to you and say, hey, you know, he passed the TAKS test. Is there any -- can we give him some extra credit? And, you know, it's like a 60 or a 40. It's really, really bad. But that's just kind of an institutional problem that we have all through the K-12.
DEROCCOI think, yeah, you're absolutely right. And it's one of the reasons that the National Governors Association, the Chief State School Officers and business organization, like the NAM and Manufacturing Institute, are supporting the national Common Core Standards Initiative around math and science. We can't afford to not have high standards in every state in this country.
REHMNow, this is interesting, an email from Richard, who says, "Our high schools are failing to adequately train a manufacturing workforce. Number one, a local HR manager gives applicants a ruler and an object to measure. As many as 40 percent cannot accomplish the task. Number two, while teaching blueprint reading to supposedly skilled workers in a manufacturing facility, I found only one of six could convert fractional dimensions to decimal equivalents."
REHM"And three, too many guidance counselors have no idea what skills are required. He's not good in school, but he's good with his hands." Something has got to be done. And it seems to me, it really is going to take a partnership with manufacturing, with the schools, with the foundations to come up with a way to improve the system.
DEROCCOAbsolutely. Although we were one of those jump-started by the major education philanthropies to move our business partnership forward. I would say that the president has put a huge emphasis on building more business-education partnerships, making sure that the voice of the job creators is helping to change an educational system that has failed too many students.
REHMEmily DeRocco of the Manufacturing Institute, Byron Auguste of McKinsey & Company, Gary Green, president of the Forsyth Technical Community College, thank you all so much. And thanks for listening. I'm Diane Rehm.
ANNOUNCER"The Diane Rehm Show" is produced by Sandra Pinkard, Nancy Robertson, Susan Nabors, Denise Couture, Monique Nazareth and Sarah Ashworth. The engineer is Tobey Schreiner. Dorie Anisman answers the phones. Visit drshow.org for audio archives, transcripts, podcasts and CD sales. Call 202-885-1200 for more information. Our email address is email@example.com. And we're on Facebook and Twitter. This program comes to you from American University in Washington. This is NPR.
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