Friday, July 22, 2011

America at 400 Million: Education and Skills Training

This is one in a series of columns about what's needed to get ready for a 400 million U.S. population. The concept is much in line with the concepts in the book by Joel Kotkin, The Next Hundred Million: America in 2050.

I was just over a year old when the U.S. population hit 200 million. It was a big deal. President Johnson was on hand when the Census proclaimed the 200th million American milestone was hit on November 21, 1967.

I was 40, in 2006, when the nation hit 300 million population.

It's widely accepted that the U.S. population will likely hit 400 million people in another 40 years, some time around 2040 to 2050. Thus, I'll be somewhere around 80 years old, God willing, when that time comes.

The concept has me thinking about a lot of things. Education is an overriding issue and when I talk about education I really, as much, mean skills training.

Stop saying everyone needs a college degree.  I think more and more people are starting to say this, and it's true.  The measure of a community, a region, or a state's success is not in how many of its population has bachelor's degrees.  We need to change that metric.  It's necessary to achieve the best, and highest education one needs for the career they desire.  Education is not the end-all, a career is.

Focus on skills training.  In line with the idea that not everyone needs a college degree is the concept that everyone does need skills training.  Every employable person needs to pursue and achieve some level of skills training. Government's role is to facilitate and accommodate the need for skills training.  Business will pay for what it needs.

Include the needs of manufacturing. Manufacturing is already making a comeback and the demographics tell us that demand for U.S. manufacturing in the next 40 years will grow.  It's key that our education and training providers re-adapt to focus on the needs of manufacturers.

STEM skills training is key for the entire nation.  A focus on science, technology, engineering, and math is a good one.  It needs to be for the whole nation, not a social program geared towards just urban areas.  It also needs to not be about encouraging degrees, but about obtaining the mix of skills needed to fulfill business needs.

The bottom line: The measure of success for the yet-unborn generation will be whether our nation prepared for them by preparing to serve the needs of the nation's employers, not serving the needs of the educational bureaucracy.

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