Monday, October 20, 2014

American exceptionalism in the workforce? Not so much

10/9/2013

Despite American bravado that boasts the idea the United States has the best workers in the world, a comprehensive study on the global workforce tells an entirely different story.

Rather than Americans being the smartest and the most skilled in the workplace, the study by Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development said U.S. workers have fallen woefully behind other countries — by a long shot. The deep hole is based on Americans’ deficits in education, particularly in math and reading literacy. The report, as summarized in the New York Times, showed a skills gap between needed education levels and existing levels that has yet to be filled by American workers. Specifically, among the 22 countries surveyed, Americans were merely average on literacy and were just one rung above the two lowest performing countries of Spain and Italy on math skills.

Despite American bravado that boasts the idea the United States has the best workers in the world, a comprehensive study on the global workforce tells an entirely different story.

Rather than Americans being the smartest and the most skilled in the workplace, the study by Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development said U.S. workers have fallen woefully behind other countries — by a long shot. The deep hole is based on Americans’ deficits in education, particularly in math and reading literacy. The report, as summarized in the New York Times, showed a skills gap between needed education levels and existing levels that has yet to be filled by American workers. Specifically, among the 22 countries surveyed, Americans were merely average on literacy and were just one rung above the two lowest performing countries of Spain and Italy on math skills.

How did this happen? No doubt many theories might explain the phenomenon, but one thing is clear: Americans have gotten complacent about their standing in the global job market and it’s to their own detriment — especially when foreign-born job candidates are the best ones for a position because of their strong education and skill set.

We’ve evidently taken our eyes off the proverbial ball on education, and other countries, most notably Japan, have eclipsed the U.S. exponentially.

Though the recession drove many people back to school for additional education to better prepare themselves for an evolving marketplace, an insufficient number of people sought the advanced education to close the gap. About 43 percent of new jobs in America’s largest metropolitan areas require a bachelor’s degree or higher education level, though less than a third of adults older than 25 have those degrees, resulting in an education and employment gap.

America’s endless focus on winning the arms race and having more weapons than other countries obviously should instead have been focused on gaining an upper hand in the education and job skills arena. This needed competitive mind set has to occur at all age levels because young people in other countries, such as Korea, score an average of 49 points higher than their elders on literacy tests while the cavity between younger and older Americans’ education level is on average just 9 points higher. That might be further evidence of the comparatively higher number of high school drop-outs in America compared to other developing countries, as well as a lack of improvement on reading and math scores during the past decade.

It’s time for Americans to strategize on how to win the global education and skills race so our nation can suitably wear the bravado for which we’ve grown so fond.

 

— Jeanny Sharp,

editor and publisher

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