One thing that few seem to realize is that our economy and thus our society is undergoing a permanent change. Normally, after a deep recession one expects to see a strong period of growth as previous economic activity returns to normal. That has not been happening. The fact is that a combination of automation and the ability to send more routine jobs to parts of the world with lower wages has begun to eliminate what were once nice middle class jobs. This has been happening even in good times, but the downturn gave companies an excuse to accelerate the shift to automation and global sourcing. Consequently, a good number of the jobs lost will never come back. They have already been automated or outsourced.
The new middle class and better jobs require a much higher level of skill and initiative than we have ever experienced before. The situation where a person with basic skills willing to work hard can be trained for a given job and then keep that job for a career are gone. The new middle class is populated with people who augment and enhance things that machines do; who can constantly improve and adapt what is happening; and who can provide value that reaches beyond what machines can do. On the manufacturing floor, for example, good employees are working with expensive automated machines; they understand the technology behind the machines well enough to monitor the process, identify improvements, and recognize and adjust when problems occur. They grasp how their company creates value, and how their role contributes to that value. Thus, they participate with others to constantly examine and improve the overall processes and products of the business.
Education must prepare graduates for these new middle class and better jobs. If we want our companies to be successful, they must have access to employees qualified for those jobs. This is why we believe an entirely new approach to education is absolutely critical.
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