Reimagining Education for the New Collar Workforce
By Glenn Marshall and Doug Berger
Troubling Facts1) Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, students were facing the ongoing loss of learning opportunities that would shape the rest of their lives and the U.S. economic future. 2) The greatest challenge facing manufacturers of all sizes continues to be finding qualified workers (8th consecutive survey Manufacturers’ Outlook Survey from the National Association of Manufacturers). 3) Up to 85% of “new collar” jobs do not yet exist (Institute for the Future) so having transferable skills will be more important than a degree. 4) The latest National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) 2019 report shows that only about 30% of students are proficient in civics, math, reading, and science at graduation as shown below.
5) In school year 2017–18, the national graduation rate for public high school students was 85%, the highest in the decade. However, only 37% met college readiness benchmarks.6) Globally, the United States ranked 8th in reading, 11th in science, and 30th in math.
Underlying the facts is systemic failure … just not what you thinkEducation is trapped in an academic paradigm that has been increasingly irrelevant to blue collar, trades and now “new collar” workforce. The academic paradigm emphasizes intellectual knowledge; the new paradigm emphasizes know-how and skill. What is taught and tested in high school Math is algebra, geometry, trigonometry, calculus. The math skills the new collar worker really needs are arithmetic, measurement, graphing and statistics. What is taught and tested in high school English is expository writing and literature comprehension. The English skills the new collar worker needs are understanding instructions and step-wise action, filling out forms, writing plans, understanding a YouTube video to fix something and the ability to clearly explain. What is taught and tested in high school Science are principles, information and description in biology, chemistry and physics. Skills needed are understanding why and how things work, what Page 2 leads to failures and errors, what is unsafe and why. Skills to separate facts from opinions and conclusions, do analysis and run experiments. What we do not teach includes computer programming, digital applications, problem solving methods, visual sketching an idea. We do not teach that often there is no single right answer. The academic paradigm does not develop character. Inside the academic paradigm we do not value the teamwork, resilience, commitment; we develop those from sports and performing arts. We do not value the responsibility, discipline and adaptability from serving in the armed forces. These are critical to the needs of employers. We live in a world where ‘there is an app for that and people’ and people figure them out with no instructions, hack them, play video games at increasing difficulty and we say they are not lifelong learners.
The new paradigm is skillingManufacturers, educators and economic development professionals everywhere are looking for real, actionable ideas to train workers, reduce the shortfall and realize the potential of the new age of manufacturing. The new collar workers that manufacturers seek have the digital skills needed to “run automation and software, design in CAD, program sensor, maintain robots, repair 3D printers and collect and analyze data” according to Sara Boisvert, author of The New Collar Workforce. The President and CEO of The Reshoring Initiative Harry Moser is dedicated to educating manufacturers on the importance of manufacturing to the U.S. “The government needs to take some real action to push funds into training programs instead of university loans,” said Moser. “The biggest issue in the reshoring movement is the skills gap,” says Don Buckner, President and CEO of MadeinAmerica.com. Career Technical Education (CTE) as an educational strategy to equip learners with the academic and technical skills they need to be prepared for future careers. Today’s CTE delivers real options for college and rewarding careers, helps learners build real-world skills and enhances the high school and college experience. CTE is having a positive effect on career-ready graduation rates: 95% of CTE students graduate high school, 10% higher than the national average. Seventy eight percent of CTE graduates enroll in post-secondary education full-time. To better prepare recent graduates for all types of new collar jobs, the Report Card on Workforce Readiness recommends that all stakeholders (businesses, educators, and community members) consider methods of enhancing important workplace skills. It suggests internships, summer jobs, work-study programs, job shadowing, and other educational approaches that include real-world experiences or community involvement, provide opportunities for students to acquire basic knowledge and skills, while cultivating applied skills. According to the report, the top three applied skills that employer’s value the most are professionalism/work ethic, teamwork/collaboration, and oral/written communications. The future skills are nowhere to be found in public education. Based on extensive research in 2019 with a select committee, MSSC has chosen nine emerging 4.0 technologies it believes will profoundly influence manufacturing and quality control processes: 5G, artificial intelligence (AI), autonomous robots, additive (3D), data analytics, Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), augmented reality, nanomanufacturing, advanced materials.