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Workforce 2000 agenda recognizes lifelong need to improve skills.

Workforce 2000 agenda recognizes lifelong need to improve skills WILLIAM E. BROCK

When I came to the Labor Department as its Secretary in May 1985, I told the employees that I hoped we could open ourselves to new ideas and initiatives, not just from within our own ranks, but from all of the people and organizations which have a stake in the Department's wide-ranging activities. I was not disappointed. There is a growing awareness that the world is changing rapidly and that methods and concepts which served us well in the past must be rigorously reexamined.

We are beginning to have a national dialogue on the relevant issues and questions that will determine our economic future, and I am gratified that the Labor Department contributed to that through a project called "Workforce 2000."

The programs, policies, and issues that are part of Workforce 2000 are rooted in Labor Department studies and projections of what kinds of jobs our economy will produce in the future, and who will be available to do them. For example, 3 of every 4 workers in the year 2000 will be people who are already in our Nation's labor force. Eighty percent of the new entrants will come from three groups -- women, minorities, and immigrants.

Of the new jobs expected to be created over the next 13 years, every category requiring higher skills will grow faster than those requiring less skills. Almost half of the 20 occupations projected to lead the growth over the next decade are related to the computer and health fields. The occupational mix of jobs also will change, with employment in managerial and professional positions growing almost five times as fast as operative and laborer jobs.

Unless every portent of where the domestic and world economies are headed is wrong, the workers of the future will have to be better educated and better trained than our current labor force, or will be unable to maintain a leadership position in the high technology industries and services that offer the greatest promise for America's continued prosperity.

Each of the groups that will account for the bulk of new workers -- women, immigrants, and minorities -- presents particular challenges. The growing number of women in the labor force has highlighted the problem of parents who must balance the demands of the jobs with child care responsibilities. Immigrants often must overcome language barriers that make it difficult for them to find and keep jobs and to learn skills. Minority and disadvantaged youths are more likely to be functionally illiterate, to drop out of school, to become pregnant as teenagers, or to use abuse drugs and alcohol.

The specter of millions of youngsters continuing to reach adulthood without acquiring the basic skills needed to become productive, self-support, self-respecting members of society is especially disquieting. We run the risk -- and it is a risk with grave consequences -- of creating a permanent underclass, a group of people who are not just enemployed, but unemployable. Because of the importance of this problem, the Labor Department -- as part of Work-force 2000 -- increased the emphasis on basic education in its youth programs, especially programs serving young people in welfare families. Society must concentrate more employment and training resources, private as well as public, on young parents and children in welfare families because they can benefit most from such help.

Our economy is expected to produce more than 10 million new jobs by 1995. At the same time, our population and work force will be expanding at an unusually slow pace, and the number of young people seeking jobs actually will decline. The convergence of these trends could result in a shortage of workers, particularly at the entry level, but for some higher paying skilled jobs as well. All of this adds up to a potential "window of opportunity" to bring minority youth, the handicapped, and others with longstanding employment problems into the mainstream of the U.S. economy. It is an opportunity we dare not squander by failing to give these people the tools to take advantage of it.

There is no tool more important to workers today than education and training that will enable them to function in a job market requiring more flexibility and adaptability than ever before. Yet many of our educational institutions and job training programs persist in preparing people for first occupation as thought it will also be the last. The average American wage earner today can expect to work in three or more careers in a lifetime.

"...no tool more important than education...."

Education and occupational training too often are viewed as institutional processes that end when a young person begins earning a living. We need to look beyond the classroom and realize that education -- especially worked-related education and training -- is a lifelong endeavor. We must make the rhetoric of "continuing education" a reality. Every industry and every union should be involved in programs to train, retrain, and upgrade the skills of workers. If it has taught us nothing else, the human suffering and economic waste caused by cutbacks in steel and other basic industries should have demonstrated the folly of waiting until workers are faced with redundancy before preparing them for new jobs.

Although the private sector must take the lead in worker training, the government has a role to play. To improve the effectiveness of the government's efforts, the Labor Department's Workforce 2000 agenda includes a proposed new worker adjustment program.

Helping dislocated workers must be a cooperative effort that brings together labor and management in a common cause. The same can be said of every aspect of our Nation's drive to produce quality goods and services that are fully competitive in what is fast becoming an integrated world economy. Confrontation no longer is a viable approach to labor-management relations. American business and industry must not just accept but invite involvement in every phase of their operations from design to production to marketing. Organization that stress employee participation will be the most successful and the best prepared to lead America into the competitive cauldron of the next century.

Acceptance of the need for change, however, is not necessarily followed quickly by substantive change in the way government operates. That should not be surprising -- the laws of human nature are not easily revoked -- nor is it all bad. Government services and protections that affect millions of people should not imitate the commercial consumer market where periodic remodeling of products all too often reflects advertising consideration rather than improved quality. Still, in looking back on 2 1/2 rewarding and stimulating years. I must admit the measured pace of institutional change probably ranks as my chief frustration.

The Employment Service, for example, has been bringing together workers and employers for more than half a century. Techniques for matching jobs and jobseekers have changed, but the relationship between this essentially local activity and the Federal Government is little different than it was during the depression years of the 1930s. That does not make much sense. Labor and job market conditions vary widely in a Nation as geographically, vast and economically dynamic as ours. Workers and employers would benefit as ours. Workers and employers would benefit if States exercised greater control over the financing and programs of the Employment Service. We made a start in that direction, but a good deal more remains to be done.

Few, if any, Labor Department responsibilities are more important than protecting the health and safety of american workers. It is a daunting mission in size and complexity as well as in the controversies and passions it engenders. Rulemaking is at the heart of administering the job safety law, and it can be , at at times has been, a cumbersome if not chaotic process.

In its first 16 years of existence, the Occupational safety and Health Administration approved fewer than 20 standards for handling toxic substances. Admittedly, developing such standards is difficult, involving as it often does passionate partisans for and against every proposal, substantial economic considerations, and complicated and even conflicting scientific data. But part of the problem was the agency's decision to set out on a course of establishing a separate standard for each of the hundreds, or perhaps thousands, of substances that might be hazardous to workers. That way lies madness.

Generic regulations and mediated rulemaking are better approaches. In generic rulemaking, a general standard is established for a whole range of hazardous substances. The standard requires employers to inform workers about hazardous substances they may encounter on the job and to train them in the proper handling of such substances.

Mediated rulemaking involves the establishment of committees composed of all interested parties to draft regulations on specific job safety and health issues. Participants normally include representatives of labor, management, government, and, where appropriate, the scientific community. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration reviews the work of the committee, makes any changes it deems necessary, and then issues the rule as a proposal for public comment. The idea is that disagreements will be diminished and the process accelerated if those who have the biggest stake in job safety regulations are given a role in formulating them. Although mediated rulemaking is no panacea, its potential for resolving difficult issues is evident in the progress that has been made on establishing a standard for methylenedianiline.

Generic standards and mediated rulemaking are steps in the right direction. That they are not yet standard operating procedures, and that they have been so long in coming attest to the difficulty of achieving institutional change.

Rules governing working at home, a new program to help dislocated workers return to productive employment, and stronger protections for private pension plan participants are some other areas in which we sought to alter the status quo in ways that would make Labor Department programs and policies compatible with our changing economy. None of these efforts was complete at the time of my departure, but home work rules based on common sense and fair play were near the finish line, an expanded program to help displaced workers had broad support, and pension issues were nearing a very positive resolution on Capitol Hill.

My disappointment in the inertia that seems built into most large institutions was tempered by the acceptance of the need for change in what some might consider an unlikely quarter -- labor-management relations. Cooperation may not yet be the dominant theme in labor-management relations, but it is gaining adherents on both sides of the bargaining table at a rate that only the most optimistic would have thought possible just a few years ago. The Labor Department has played a limited but important role in this development by encouraging labor and management to work together and by serving as a clearinghouse for a broad range of information on innovative approaches to employee participation.

The growing interest in an acceptance of labor-management cooperation could not have come at a better time. Labor-management cooperation, or employee participation, which is an-other name for the same concept, is an essential element in building the skilled, flexible work force the Nation will help as we move into the 21st century.

America faces a future of great challenge and great opportunity. We have an unmatched history of accomplishment and keen competitive instincts. Time and again, we have demonstrated our ability to adapt to change. But the term "adapt to change" implies taking action after the fact. That is not longer good enough. We must anticipaste change and be ready to make the most of it.

Change has been one of the constants of the American experience. As a Nation, we have embraced it, not feared it, because we are optimists. We must maintain that philosophy, but adopt a new timetable in applying it. If we do, of and business, labor, and the academic community work together -- in the national interest as well as in mutual self-interest -- then we the 21st century dawns, Americans will be ready.

PHOTO: William E. Brock
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Title Annotation:Reflections of Eight Former Secretaries
Author:Brock, William E.
Publication:Monthly Labor Review
Date:Feb 1, 1988
Words:1991
Previous Article:Establishing an agenda for the Department of Labor.
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