Our Education-to-Jobs System is Broke. It’s time to Fix the System, not Just the Parts.


Last month I ranted about the sad state of our educational system. This month I want to elevate the discussion to the next level. The educational system produces the feedstock for the employment and job market. So, if the input to the job market is flawed (as I believe it is) it is only reasonable to suspect the next step in the employment food chained wouldn’t work too well either.

Well surprise, surprise, it doesn’t.

We in the U.S. are faced with a declining labor force participation rate:

"Civilian Labor Force Participation Rate, 2003-2013" U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

“Civilian Labor Force Participation Rate, 2003-2013” U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

OK, you say, so the percentage of people in the labor force has only dropped around 3% in a decade. Hey, that’s only about 4.67M souls not even looking for work. I know, they are only looking for a handout, right?

The trend line is important though. At this rate we can effectively double the unemployment rate in a decade. Brevity prohibits a deeper analysis but suffice to say the situation is even more dire for the young, minorities and women.

I suggest that events in Europe presage the United States. When youth unemployment hits the 25-30% range the very social fabric that holds us together begins to disintegrate. Not a pretty picture.

A revolutionary witches brew to be sure. Some say that the States are the laboratory of democracy. So, let’s keep watching those bubbling beakers in Wisconsin, Michigan, New Jersey and Texas. I’d say it’s time for the HazMat suit test.

Why? Because the education and workforce systems are like two interlocking, rotating systems. One (education) creates a supply and the other (workforce) has a demand.

Screen Shot 2013-09-10 at 2.10.48 PM

So, what’s wrong with the picture? I don’t want to go all wonky on you here, but any half-way competent engineer can see there is no feedback loop between the systems. The workforce engine isn’t telling the education talent creator what it needs. And, and the educational system is on its’ high horse assuming what’s needed.

Bingo, bango, we have a failure to communicate and the systems continue to spiral out of control. The good news is that this really is quite easy to fix. Businesses need to forecast what their labor demands will be in time frames longer than the educational cycle—yep that means thinking into the future maybe 10 years out. Employers need to get real good at saying what they need, even when they don’t even have job titles for it. The “C” suite folks I talk to have got a pretty clear focus right now. Technical skills (such as STEM—science, technology, engineering and math) are a foundation. But what’s really missing are people skills, collaboration skills, teamwork, and empathic skills. Ain’t all book learning, maybe we need more hands-on coaching and practice instead of shoot ‘em up video games? Just sayin’.

So, businesses need to get out of their comfort zones. And education? Well, I beat up on them pretty good last month. These two pieces need to fit together better. Someone needs to start the conversation and continue to support it. Not just resume writing workshops and G.E.D. programs. That’s pretty old 90’s stuff folks.

Bottom-line: the jobs are there but the people we need to do them aren’t. Time to fix the system—not just the parts.

I stand in the place where I think the solution here is public sector driven, with collaboration from private interests. I’ll return here with a rant on public sector devolution down the road. ‘Til then, enjoy what’s left of summer.

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