Monday, July 20, 2015

Democracy talent crisis

Brian Dickerson, a member of the editorial board of the Detroit Free Press wrote an editorial for Sunday's edition about the purpose of college. He is responding to Michigan Governor Rick Snyder's talk of "alignment" between what training employers need and what colleges provide. Snyder isn't the only governor saying such things. Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker wants to cut funding for colleges and universities that don't equip workers for the job market.

Dickerson asks: When should job-specific training to be paid by the taxpayers and when should it be paid by the employer?

Eric Johnson is a student aid administrator at the University of North Carolina. He wrote an essay for the Chronicle of Higher Education. He says what employers are doing is to "offload" the expense of training workers for job-specific tasks. The employee or the society is asked to pay instead.
The trick is to relabel it education, then complain that your prospective employees aren't getting the right kind.
This shift is part of the fierce bidding between states for the big employers. To sweeten the pot a state may offer to subsidize training costs.

Dickerson says there are a few things wrong with this way of doing education.

First: What employers say are critical skills now are not necessarily the critical skills a few years from now – such as when the student graduates.

Second: Employers themselves say what they look for is evidence a student can "design and execute a four-year plan" no matter the degree or major. Put another way, the top skill is "how to evaluate raw information, be it from people or a spreadsheet, and make reasoned and critical decisions." As my own liberal arts professors told me many times our job is to teach you how to think.

Third: The historical idea behind American education, says Dickerson, is to equip students to become citizens and voters, someone "who can discriminate between a documented news story and an urban legend or Onion satire."

This last point makes me think of those want to wield power. One way to do that is to make sure your opponents aren't smart enough of knowledgeable enough to question your power over them.

Employers say they don't have workers with the right talents. Dickerson says, "Democracy is confronting its own talent crisis, and colleges and universities are an indispensable part of the solution."

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