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Bridge for tomorrow; education for the noncollegiate labor force.

America's future lies with her high schoo graduates. Her productivity, strength, and prosperity depend on those whose formal education ends when they receive a diploma and shake hands with their high school principal. And yet, the flurry of reports dealing with America's schools has largely ignored these students, focusing instead on the college bound. Most young Americans, however, do not spend 4 years in college. Many do not spend even a day there. Only about one-fourth of this year's high school graduates are likely to finish college. About half will not seek any further education immediately. High school is their last chance to acquire the skills they need to lead productive lives. It is also society's last chance--our last chance--to train the people who will make up the American labor force. In so far as these students are unskilled, our factories will be less productive, our military weaker, our country poorer. We ignore them at our peril.

The education these students need is the subject of a recent report prepared by the Panel on Secondary Education for the Changing Workplace, which was made up of employers, educators, and experts on occupational trends and the impact of technology on employment. The panel paid particular attention to a source of information largely untapped by previous studies: The experience of employers.

The panel studied the present and tried to make reasonable assumptions concerning the future in order to determine the preparation that high school graduates will need to move successfully from school into the work force and to build satisfying lifelong careers. These are its principal findings:

* Today's young people will face great change during their 40-year careers, changes in technology and organizations are great as any generation has ever confronted. But equally important will be continuity. Change will not occur so rapidly as to become unmanageable. It will be less like the rising of a tide than the growth of a child.

* High school graduates must be able to understand and adapt to change.

* A sound fundamental education provides the basis for the ability to adapt to change.

* High school graduates with a sound fundamental education have a functional command of spoken and written English, the ability to analyze and solve problems logically, knowledge to mathematics at least through elementary algebra, familiarity with the scientific method and the basic principles of physics, chemistry, biology, and computers, the ability to deal constructively with others, constructive work habits, and an understanding of American society and its economic system.

* All young Americans, regardless of their career or educational goals, need the knowledge and skills provided by a fundamental education.

* Providing this knowledge and these skills is the primary and most pressing responsibility of the schools.

* Other elements of society, particularly the business community, share with the schools the responsibility of preparing our young people for successful employment and adult life. The Pace of Change Today

After decades of unchallenged world supremacy, the American economy has entered a period of dramatic change. Media reports often portray a disturbing future, when high technology, foreign competition, new patterns technology implies that large numbers of workers will shortly need drastically higher skills in computer science and programming. Tens of millions of Americans, however, today spend their lives in intimate dependence on automobiles, with only the most rudimentary understanding of what makes them work. Just as the automotive revolution did not make us a nation of automotive engineers or auto mechanics, the computer revolution need not transform us all into computer scientists, programmers, and technicians.

Many people assume that advancing technology requires higher skills; in reality, it often requires different, and sometimes even lesser skills. A stock clerk who once recorded inventory on paper forms may now "keyboard" the same information into the company computer or even use special sensors that read the bar codes printed on the goods. And new diagnostic tools used in medicine make the exacting skills required to perform the chemical analyses by hand unnecessary. Situations that require decidedly higher skills will also arise, of course, as some new technologies generate entirely new industries offering wholly new occupations. Examples may well include robotics and biotechnology. But predictions that the economy will bifurcate into an upper stratum of very skilled jobs and a lower stratum of menial ones, leaving little in between, appear alarmist.

Although the precise changes that will occur in particular occupations cannot be foretold, the panel confidently predicts that the skills required of workers will change over their working lifetimes. People in declining industries or occupations will have to find new jobs, possibly in new industries. People whose jobs do not disappear will have to adapt to new technologies. And even people whose jobs do not change will often need new skills to advance to better positions. What High School Graduates Need

The panel's assessment of future employment trends, together with employers' descriptions of the kind of workers they expect to employ in coming years, lead to a single conclusion: The high school graduate who will build a successful career in the decades ahead is a person equipped to learn throughout a working lifetime. A person who knows how to learn has a firm grounding in the fundamentals of knowledge and has mastered the basic skills that create an intellectual foundation to which new knowledge may be added.

The schools cannot meet the specific demands of particular employers. They cannot train students, for example, to fill out a particular organization's invoices or requisition slips, or to follow its particular costing procedures, or to understand its technical manuals. But the schools can, and must, teach students the basic skills that underlie these particular job requirements. A young person who can read skillfully and compute accurately will quickly master the particular versions of these skills required by a given employer. A young person who lacks the basics, however, probably cannot learn to fulfill an employer's expectations.

The panel has concluded, therefore, that the need for adaptability and lifelong learning dictate a core of fundamental competencies critical to the career success of high school graduates. These include the ability to read, write, reason, and compute; an understanding of American social and economic life; knowledge of the basic findings and techniques of physical and biological science; experience with cooperation and conflict resolution in groups; and attitudes and personal habits that make for a dependable, responsible, adaptable, and informed worker and citizen. Academic abilities, interpersonal skills, and personal work habits and attitudes each play a critical role in career success. Together they come as close as we reasonably can to outfitting a young person for the uncertain future.

That these competencies form the basis of all high quality education is not accidental. The education needed for the workplace does not differ in its essentials from that needed for college or advanced technical training. The central recommendation of this study is that all young Americans, regardless of their career goals, achieve mastery of this core of competencies. For those intending to enter the work force directly after high school, additional training in specific vocational skills is highly desirable because it increases employability, particularly with smaller employers. But no other skills, no matter how useful or worthwhile, can substitute for the core competencies.

Preparing all of America's young people for productive working lives is a benefit and responsibility of all segments of our society. The schools cannot bear the burden alone, Employers, government, parents, and students each must contribute if our young people are to enter the work force equipped to function productively in a changing job market.

The coming decades will bring challenge and change; we believe, however, that they will also offer real opportunity to high school graduates possessing the sound fundamental education we have described. Our young people ask no more than a fair chance at a decent future. We owe them, and the Nation, no less.
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Author:Kutscher, Ronald
Publication:Occupational Outlook Quarterly
Date:Jun 22, 1984
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