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Pay attention to Pathways to Prosperity!

February 6, 2011

by Hans Meeder

Last Wednesday, while most of the U.S. was paying attention to perplexing economic indicators, a dramatic power showdown in Egypt, and speculation about the Super Bowl match-up, a VERY important report was released in Washington, DC.  The new report, prepared by a team from the Harvard Graduate School of Education, is called “Pathways to Prosperity, Meeting the Challenge of Preparing Young Americans for the 21st Century.”

In essence, the report points out the hard reality that America’s education system, as it currently performs, is nowhere near effective enough in preparing young Americans for skilled, competitive careers, which mostly require some sort of education and training beyond high school.  The report purports that America’s obsession with “college for all” doesn’t really address the economic realities of our current job market, and it doesn’t sufficiently engage and inspire young people to stay in school and work hard toward a career-focused education and training.  Instead, America’s education system should lead young people to a variety of clearly defined “pathways” that link to meaningful career options.

This report is worth printing out and sharing with every open-minded educator, political and business leader you know, because it can serve as a valuable starting point for rich conversation about the future of education in the U.S.  If you watch Secretary of Education Arne Duncan’s remarks at the event, you might notice that he characterized the report as calling for the reinvention of Career and Technical Education.  I found that really interesting as I think that’s a very narrow interpretation of the report.  The message of “Pathways” is calling for a bold reimagining of education that draws upon the strengths of CTE and career pathways, offering young people multiple pathways to careers, including baccalaureate, associate, certificate, and apprenticeship programs.  Yes, high quality, modern CTE is a prerequisite component of the broader system, but the report is not solely focused on CTE.

You can download the full report at the Harvard GSE site for Pathways to Prosperity.

And you can also view videos from the release of the report, hosted by the American Youth Policy Forum.

Below I’ve included some quotes from the report that particularly resonated with me.  In an upcoming blog, I’ll talk to the authors of the report and let you know how it is being received.

* * * * *

“The message is clear: in 21st century America, education beyond high school is the passport to the American Dream.  But how much and what kind of post-secondary is really needed to prosper in the new American economy?

“More surprisingly, they (certificate-related jobs)  pay more than many of the jobs held by those with a bachelor’s degree.  In fact, 27 percent of people with post-secondary licenses or certificates-credentials short of an associate’s degree-earn more than the average bachelor’s degree recipient.”

“What is most noteworthy about the President’s statement is the implicit recognition that if the U.S. is going to make dramatic progress in reclaiming its historic leadership position in post-secondary attainment, it is going to have to focus much more attention and resources on programs and pathways that do not require a bachelor’s degree but do prepare young people for the kind of middle-skill jobs outlined above.”

“Indeed, if current trends persist, the percentage of young adults with a post-secondary degree may actually drop, reversing a long history in which children have generally been better educated than their parents.”

“Given these dismal attainment numbers, a narrowly defined “college for all” goal-one that does not include a much stronger focus on career-oriented programs that lead to occupational credentials-seems doomed to fail.”

“…the paradox is that even through young people understand they need post-secondary education to make it in 21st century America, huge percentages continue to drop out of high school and college.”

“We fail these young people not because we are indifferent, but because we have focused too exclusively on a few narrow pathways to success.  It is time to widen our lens and to build a more finely articulated pathways system-one that is richly diversified to align with the needs and interest of today’s young people and better designed to meet the needs of the 21st century economy.”

“While these initiatives are encouraging, we clearly need a more comprehensive effort to develop a robust pathways system.  If high school career-focused pathways were firmly linked to community college and four-year college majors, for example, we believe more students would be likely to stay the course.  Indeed, we are convinced that this is an exceptionally promising strategy for increasing post-secondary attainment.”

“Our current system places far too much emphasis on a single pathway to success: attending and graduating from a four-year college after completing an academic program of study in high school.  Yet as we’ve seen, only 30 percent of young adults successfully complete this preferred pathway, despite decades of efforts to raise the numbers. “

“It is long past time that we broaden the range of high-quality pathways that we offer to our young people, beginning in high school.”

“Every high school graduate should find viable ways of pursuing both a career and a meaningful post-secondary degree or credential.  For too many of our youth, we have treated preparing for college versus preparing for career as mutually exclusive options.”

“Students who are bored and at risk of dropping out need to be engaged more effectively.  They need to know that there are navigable pathways leading to rewarding careers in the mainstream economy.  Our hope is that states will recognize the importance of providing such options and not make the mistake of mandating a narrow common college prep curriculum for all.”

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The Next Generation of American Dreamers

January 18, 2011

A few weeks ago, I had a blinding flash of the obvious.  What about the children and youths of the Great Recession?

While it’s common fare these days to hear presentations about the so-called Millennials — those young people born between 1982 and 2004, who are now seven years old to their late 20s – little has been said about how our nation’s current economic struggle will impact their thinking.

Millenials are often said to be highly nurtured, told they are “special” by their parents, and described as impatient or having a sense of entitlement about workplace advancement.  They have been described as  possessing a “different” kind of work ethic, so much so that teachers and managers have been encouraged to understand the learning and work styles of Millennials in order to inculcate them to the world of work.

So back to my flash…  It occurred to me that most of the research done on this particular generation and their attitudes about the workplace and life-in-general was done pre-Great Recession when there was a general sense of affluence.

So, what impact has the Great Recession had on the mindset of these Millennials?

How do these young people view the world as they sit poised to take over the reins and lead it?  After growing up in a sense of relative privilege, this new climate in which they are navigating is new territory.  Jobs and opportunities are no longer as readily available as they have been brought up to believe.  After all, in the past few years, we’ve seem almost nine million jobs lost, not to mention the several other million people struggling with long-term unemployment and underemployment.  Even for the Millenials who are not yet in the workplace, the economic experiences of parents, siblings, relatives and friends must have an impact on their view of the world and life.

Neil Howe and William Strauss are two of the preeminent historians that have mapped the impact of generations on our nation’s history, and how each generation is shaped by major events and shared experiences. In their analysis, generations are shaped by a “turning” – the series of events that influence the thinking and approach of generations to come.  An example of this would be the Great Depression/World War II shaping the “G.I.” generation, or the Vietnam/Civil Rights/Watergate era shaping the Boomers. (See http://www.lifecourse.com/mi/insight/timelines/generations.html)

It makes sense that these “turning” events shaped how future generations have perceived their role in the world.  I wonder if the Great Recession will qualify as new “turning” phenomena that help shape how the Millennials and subsequent generations will view their world?

Taking on the “ambition gap.”

In his 2005 tome “The World Is Flat,” Thomas Friedman coined the term “the ambition gap” to describe the disparity he saw between young Americans and their peers in places like China and India.  He described youth in these emerging economies as being driven by  ambition and a hyper-work ethic.  Those young people living in America?  Not so much.  But I wonder could a stronger work ethic and sense of ambition among our youth be a byproduct of the Great Recession?

It seems to me that ambition and work ethic are driven by two things.  First, you have to have strong motivation to change your situation — no doubt that poverty and economic hardship is an excellent motivator.  But you also need to couple that motivation for change with a sense of opportunity and efficacy.  This means you have to believe that your hard work will actually pay off in the long run.  Society has to allow you to advance when you maintain a personal commitment to make that advancement possible.  When combining a strong desire for change with a belief in opportunity and efficacy, there is a powerful combustion of internal motivation.  These were the driving factors for immigrants who have voluntarily come to America since its earliest days.

But with today’s American youth, it seems that the “ambition gap” — the lack of ambition, that is — is facilitated by a few factors.  I’m going to make some generalizations here, but see if they ring true.

Parenting and Affluence

Some young people have everything they think they need, having grown up in environments of privilege with plenty of consumable goods and services.  For some of these children and their families, this consumption was an illusion supported by readily available credit obtained in many forms.  In fact, this consumption culture led to a negative savings rate in the mid 2000’s where the average American household was routinely spending more than it brought in each year. (See “The Decline in the U.S. Personal Saving Rate: Is It Real and Is It a Puzzle? by Massimo Guidolin and Elizabeth A. La Jeunesse, Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis Review, November/December 2007)

Of course, some children grew up in homes of real wealth that allowed them to enjoy a very high standard of living (at least compared to the much of humanity).

Whether the wealth is real or illusory, when material needs seem to come automatically and when work occurs away from the home or is very abstract, it is difficult to communicate to children what the world of work is and the degree of effort that work entails.  True confession here — I don’t think I’ve been the most effective parent in this regard.  It is very challenging to find a balance between readily providing for your children and equipping them with the tools, skills, and sense of reality to make it on their own.

Cycles and Culture of Poverty

On the other side of the equation, there are millions of youths trapped in poverty — both urban and rural.  For young people of color, this trap is rooted in a historical context of racial discrimination and social injustice.  For non-minorities, racism may not be the driving factor, but through family dysfunctions and other difficult experiences, the family has fallen into a cycle and culture of poverty.  In today’s America, many young people living in a world of poverty can not see any way to crack the code of social advancement.   For these young Americans, the Great Recession is nothing new.

Good News-Bad News

The good news about the Great Recession is that the illusion of false affluence has been broken – or at least significantly cracked.  Young people in middle and upper classes might now realize that wealth is not a natural right of living in America.

The bad news, I’m less sanguine about the other part of the equation — whether our young people (and particularly those from a family history of poverty) possess a sense of American opportunity and efficacy.  I think this is what we call the American Dream.  The American Dream is not as simple as going to college, or owning a house, or raising a family.  It is really about the sense that ‘I can make my life better.’

This is a BIG challenge.  How do we restore a sense of the American Dream — opportunity and efficacy — for our America’s youth?

In the next blog, I’ll talk about a few great examples I’ve seen of educational initiatives that help develop the American Dream in the young Americans they serve.

— Hans Meeder


The Pursuit — of Happiness and Work

July 1, 2010

As we prepare to celebrate America’s 2010 Independence Day, I’m drawn again to those inspiring words from the Declaration, that all men and women are “endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.”  Of course, there is no hard and fast definition of how an individual should pursue happiness.  But works I’ve perused lately by Daniel Pink (“Drive”) and Malcolm Gladwell (“Outliers”) confirm the intuition that work is part of the equation of happiness.  Work that is of value to others, that requires and enables some level of autonomy and creativity, and provides adequate remuneration — this kind of work provides a sense of accomplishment and contribution, and those are ingredients of inner worth and happiness.

So with that send-up to liberty, and the right to meaningful, happiness-inducing work, I want to talk about the future of work and education in the United States.

A few weeks ago (June 15), one of the nation’s most respected labor economists, Anthony (Tony) Carnevale, with his colleagues Nicole Smith and Jeff Strohl at he Georgetown Univeristy Center on Education and the Workforce, released an important new report: “Help Wanted, Projections of Jobs and Education Requirements Through 2018.”

This report provides the most up-to-date and clear analysis of where the workforce in the U.S. is headed.  Yes, jobs are becoming more and more skill-rich and knowledge-driven, and the rising generation of American workers need to be well educated to have a good shot in the knowledge economy.  Carnevale forecasts that by 2018, “63 percent of all jobs will require at least some postsecondary education.”

Now, perhaps you may have heard numbers in the past that said 80 percent of jobs would (or do) require postsecondary education.  That common factoid is really the result of data-driven “sleight of hand.”  When you look deeper, the data really said that about 8 in 10 of the “fastest growing jobs” required postsecondary education.  Of course, those fast growing jobs in high tech and biomedical and health could be relatively few in number compared to the overall number of jobs in the economy.  This Georgetown Analysis looks at all jobs in the economy, not just the fastest growing sectors.

Also, be aware that this analysis does NOT say that 63 percent of jobs in 2018 will require a bachelor’s degree.  The projection is that about 17 percent will require some postsecondary education, 12 percent will require an associate’s degree, 23 percent a bachelor’s degree, and 10 percent a master’s degree or better.

Carnevale also points out that different occupational clusters will have different concentrations of postsecondary.  “In 2018, 75-90 percent of jobs in the following industries: Information Services; Private Education Services; Government and Public Education Services: Financial Services: Professional and Businesses Services and Healthcare Services will require postsecondary education or training.”  What is interesting is that these industries will represent about 40 percent of all jobs in 2018, but since they are heavily oriented toward postsecondary education, it raises the overall average of jobs needing postsecondary learning.  The forecast says that 10 percent of jobs will be available for high school dropouts, and another 28 percent will be available for those with just high school diplomas.  That’s about 3 percent fewer jobs than were available in 2007, so those downward wage pressures on low-skilled work are likely to continue and the wage gap between skilled and non-skilled to stay very large (of course, the recession and prolonged unemployment will probably skew those earnings numbers significantly).

Another interesting finding.  In thinking about these higher demand industry sectors, individual career choices drive wages more than just the level of degree or certificate earned.  “That’s why 27 percent of people with certificates and 31 percent of people with AA degrees earn more than the average BA.”   We need to get away from those simplistic analyses that say, BA holders earn xx dollars more than associates degrees, and xx more than certificate holders.  It’s all about the specific skills and the occupational choice, not just the generic level of education.

Thank you, Dr. Carnevale and your colleagues for conducting and sharing this valuable analysis.  As you indicate, education and skills matter a great deal.  This message to our young people is more important than ever.  But educators, business partners, parents and other interested adults need to more carefully craft our messages to young people.  The message needs to move beyond the very simplistic, post-World War II message of “college for all” to a more nuanced and accurate message something akin to “Get Smart, Get Schooled and Get Skilled.”

And just as important as a basic package of learning skills and motivation toward meaningful work, we need to help our youth take advantage of tools so they can make a series of thoughtful, reasoned and informed career navigation decisions over the course of their life journey.

The pursuit of meaningful, value-producing work goes hand in hand with the Pursuit of Happiness, as well as taking full advantage of Life and Liberty.    I hope we can keep facilitating the convergence of education, employers and the economy with tighter linkages and connections among these.  This convergence is essential to helping the next generation of Americans be more successful in its pursuit of meaningful, valuable and happiness-producing work.

Happy Independence Day!

Friedman’s Five Rules for a Flat World

March 27, 2010

A week and a half ago (March 18) I had the privilege of attending the Intel  Science Talent Search Gala (thanks to my friends from Intel Diana Daggett and Carlos Contreras) at which the 40 top finalists of the awards program were recognized, and the winner of the competition was announced.  These 40 high school seniors had all conducted amazing original research in mathematical theory, gene therapies, advanced applied materials, and computer engineering, just to name a few of the research topics.

In addition to meeting these amazing young people and trying  to wrap my brain around a little bit of what they were researching, Tom Friedman, New York Times columnist and author of the global-economic, technology tome “the World is Flat” provided keynote remarks for the evening.

During his presentation, he shared with us his “Five Rules for Thriving in the Flat World.”

He described the “flat world” as a platform, where barriers and walls are broken down so people can more freely communicate and collaborate across boundaries.  Of course, the world is not totally “flat” in terms of completely open and unfettered access (look at how China treats its own people), but it’s a heck of a lot flatter than it ever had been.

Here are the Rules, and a paraphrase of his remarks.

“Rule #1.  When the world is flat, whatever can be done WILL be done.  The only question is whether it will be done BY you or TO you.

If you can imagine it, don’t think it won’t get done.  When there is this much in the way of distributed tools of connectively, if you have a good idea, you should pursue it.  Whether it’s in Boston, Bangalore, or Beijing, it will get done.

Rule #2:  The most important competition is no longer the competition between one country and another country, or between one company and another company.  The most important economic competition is between you and your own imagination.

As an independent actor, you can act on your imagination faster, farther, deeper, cheaper than ever before.  If you have an idea, you can get a factory in China to mass manufacture it, you can get Amazon to take the orders and do fulfillment, and you can use freelancher.com for the marketing and logo.  All of these services are now commodities.

There is just one thing in the flat world that is not a commodity, and that’s this (snaps his finger) — the ability to imagine, stimulate and innovate new products, new services, new ways to entertain.

It’s all about the spark of the idea.  Everything else out there can be taken to scale.

So the universities, the towns, the states, or the countries that put in the best educational infrastructure to power the individual imagination, those are the towns, the states, the countries that will thrive.

Rule 3:  There are going to be two kind of countries going forward: High imagination-enabling countries and low imagination-enabling countries.

Countries with an education system that stimulate lots of students to do this (snap-imagine) and those that do not.

The future belongs to those countries that have it.  Indeed, if I had my way we would have a new economic indicator.  Instead of gross national product, we would have gross individual product.  which country is empowering more of its individuals to take advantage of this world where individual can imagine and produce.

So can we actually teach this (creativity)?  is there a gym class for creativity?

Rule 4.  It’s called “liberal arts education.”  Liberal arts actually matters more than ever in the flat world.

Math and science are irreplaceable.  This is not an argument against that, it’s an argument for augmentation.  Do not forgot to take those liberal arts classes like art, literature, history, the humanities.  It is actually critical sources of creatively and inspiration.

Where does this come from?  Marc Tucker said that “from the one thing we know about creativity is that it typically occurs when people who have mastered two or more quite differently fields, use the framework for one to think a new and afresh about the other.”  Intuitively, we know this is truth.  DaVinci was an artist, scientist, and inventor.  DaVinci was a great lateral thinker.  if you spend your whole life in one silo, you will never have either the knowledge or the mental agility to do the synthesis, to connect the dots, which is usually where the next great breakthrough is found.

Rule 5:  It really is a lot about teachers.

Friedman said that when he wrote “The World is Flat” he coined a formula that says “CQ + PQ is always greater than IQ.”  The Curiosity Quotient and Passion Quotient will always trump the Intelligence Quotient.

“You give me a young boy or girl, a teenager, with a high passion quotient for a subject and high curiosity quotient, and I’ll take that person over someone with a high IQ seven days a week, 365 days a year.  And the greatest source of CQ and PQ are the teachers and mentors (behind the Intel Finalists). So congratulations to all the finalists, their teachers and their parents.”

Final Thoughts from Hans

Interesting idea — that passion and curiosity trump innate intelligence.  So the question is, what do we know that really stokes passion and curiosity in our young people.  We need to create educational environments that empower students to pursue passion, discover new insights, and take action on their learning.  Force feeding them with facts and theories and procedures (whatever the specific topic) is exactly the opposite from what is needed to develop curiosity and passion.  Yet, if we can successfully create that thirst for learning and a deep connection to something that matters creates passion, they will become self-motivated and self-directed learners.  Those are the learning environments (not necessarily just “schools’) that young people want to be in, and those are the places where teachers enjoy professional fulfillment too.

This type of learning seems to be the rare exception.  Let’s keep working to make this type of learning the norm.

To the future, Hans

The Industrial Commons – part 2

February 2, 2010

In the last blog, I reviewed the concept of the Industrial Commons which was introduced by Gary Pisano and Willy Shih.  In their July-August 2009 article on “Restoring American Competitiveness” they suggested some key action steps for government and business to protect and regain our edge in high-tech manufacturing and innovation.

What Government Must Do

  • Reverse the slide in the funding of basic and applied science.  Basic scientific research is about deepening our understanding of first principles, and applied research seeks to extend that knowledge to answer specific questions about real-world programs.  Commercialization takes applied research into the market.  They argue that government has been particular weak in funding applied research.
  • Focus resources on solving “grand challenge problems” like climate change, breaking the dependence on hydrocarbons for energy, and addressing the ravages of diseases.
  • Let ailing giants die (e.g. allowing the bankruptcy of GM and Chrysler).  Pisano and Shih opposed the automotive bailout.

What Businesses Must Do

  • Make capabilities the main pillar of your strategy. The authors chide companies for putting ‘brand development’ over innovation and enhancing the capabilities of their goods and services.  Apple, Intel, Corning, Amazon, and Applied Materials received pats on the back for their investments in building new capabilities.
  • Stop blaming Wall Street for short-term behavior.  They say that companies need to think long-term and not back off.  “When they (companies) articulate a credible long-term strategy and demonstrate a capacity to execute that strategy, the capital markets have given them the necessary room to achieve it.”
  • Recognize the limits of financial tools.  The authors argue that some of the quantitative techniques in corporate America make short-term investments look more attractive than long-term investments.  They say that these analytic tools are hurting the long-term prospects for innovation.
  • Reinvigorate basic and applied research.  Pisano points out that a few companies like IBM and Corning have maintained strong corporate research capabilities and look to them for the next wave of innovation.  Other companies have allowed their corporate research infrastructure to wither.
  • Collaborate. Pisano points to IBM’s approach of “radical collaboration“ in which it and a set of commerce partners share research capabilities and a common manufacturing platform.
  • Create technology-savvy boards of directors.  Basically, boards of directors need to include techno-geeks, not just finance and marketing experts.

How does this relate to the U.S. Talent Supply?

Now, I didn’t really intend to spend a lot of time talking about government and corporate policies related to R&D investments, bailouts, and Return-on-Investment analysis.  But those of us in education and workforce leadership need a deeper understanding and appreciation for all the factors that affect the innovation eco-system.  In fact, U.S. strength in these other eco-systems factors are why we have maintained our strong competitive position for so long, in spite of our education shortcomings.  So, let’s start honing in on a major factor in the innovation eco-system, America’s talent supply.

First, take a look at some big picture ideas communicated in “Rising Above the Gathering Storm” published in 2007 by the National Academies of Sciences and Engineering, and the Institute of Medicine.  An expert panel was formed at the request of Congress, specifically to provide suggested federal policy actions that could help buttress American competitiveness in the face of intensive global competition. It’s an important report and can be found at the National Academies Press website.  http://www.nap.edu/catalog.php?record_id=11463

The panel spoke about the heart of American competitiveness this way, “Because other nations have, and probably will continue to have, the competitive advantage of a low wage structure, the United States must compete by optimizing its knowledge-based resources, particularly in science and technology, and by sustaining the most fertile environment for new and revitalized industries and the well-paying jobs they bring.”

Ultimately, we can’t build and protect our Industrial Commons without a steady supply of highly-skilled talent – both at the research, design and technician levels.  We need a new workforce that is literate in technology and engineering (design) and able to apply mathematical reasoning and scientific knowledge to solving problems and creating new goods, services and processes.  This is what I think of when I use the term STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics).   The National Academy issued a stern warning about what happens if we fall short of sustaining our innovation eco-system and creating the right talent supply:

Without high-quality, knowledge-intensive jobs and the innovative enterprises that lead to discovery and new technology, our economy will suffer and our people will face a lower standard of living.”

Well said.  We need to keep saying it.  And we need to take the right actions – from the Halls of Congress, to the local school board meeting room, to the local Chamber of Commerce education and workforce committee, that will respond appropriately to this warning.

Next – why I’m finally getting on the STEM bandwagon.

The Industrial Commons

January 21, 2010

Before I get started, has anyone held that Oprah is trying to copyright the term “aha moment?”  Is that true or just another urban myth?

Anyway, I recently had an “aha moment.”  But in deference to Oprah, I’ll call it my “Light bulb moment”™©.

Anyway, I’ve been really trying to get a better grasp on how education can link up with the need for highly- skilled workers that can help create a competitive regional business climate.  In some recent federal legislation, like the Perkins Career and Technical Education Act, there are extensive references to “high skill, high wage, and high demand” occupations.  High school and college CTE programs are supposed to identify these occupations and link their programs to them.  I won’t get into the vagaries of trying to figure out and apply congressional intent, but let’s just say it is much easier said than done.

Skilled Workers and Economic Drivers

I think that policymakers were ultimately grappling with a way to put the focus on education and training that will build the talent base for a region’s economic drivers to thrive.  A good working definition of an economic driver that I came across is “an industry that stimulates economic growth and creates spin-off jobs in a region.”  In other words, these are companies in a particular industry sector that generate enough profit so that that their growth ripples outward creating demand for additional jobs in that sector.  Ultimately, as the economic drivers in a region grow, they create business profits and individual prosperity that spark demand for other goods and services.

Much of education and training is focused on training for jobs in this outer circle of goods and services.   Often, these are in fact “high-wage and high-skill” jobs.  But they won’t exist for long if the core economic drivers in a region aren’t healthy.  Look at what has happened to the home construction industry.  So I’m wondering about how we get smarter in developing the talent base that directly supports our regional and national  economic drivers themselves.

The Industrial Commons

Gary Pisano and Willy Shih helped flip the switch for my “light bulb moment” as I read their essay from the July-August 2009 edition of Harvard Business Review titled “Restoring American Competitiveness.”  They explained the important concept of the “Industrial Commons.”   You can read the beginning of the article online here and purchase a reprint if you care to — http://hbr.org/2009/07/restoring-american-competitiveness/ar/1.  Perhaps there’s a free version floating around somewhere.

Pisano and Shih draw their concept of “the commons” from the historical example of shared lands in a town where animals belonging to people in the community would graze.  The commons didn’t belong to any one person, but was a benefit shared by all in the community.  The “Industrial Commons” refers to a foundation of knowledge and capabilities (technical, design and operational) that is shared within an industry sector, such as “R&D know-how, advanced process development and engineering skills, and manufacturing competencies related to a specific technology.”   They note that these industrial commons are still mostly geographical, because they are centered around people who move from one firm to another within a region, or who collaborate between firms in a supply chain.  They observe that during the last couple decades as U.S. firms have outsourced bits and pieces of various manufacturing and engineering sectors to low-cost developing economies, there came tipping points when the full design and manufacturing capability (the industrial commons) was lost from the U.S. and the commons essentially emigrated to another locale.  They warn that once an industrial commons is lost, it is nearly impossible to retrieve.

As an example, Pisano and Shih observe that in the Computing and Communications sector, the U.S. has already lost its capabilities in desktop, notebook and netbook PCS, low-end servers, hard disk drives, consumer-networking gear such as routers, access points, and home set-top boxes.  And the U.S. is at-risk of losing blade servers, midrange servers, mobile handsets, optical-communication components, and core network equipment.

They demonstrate that Amazon’s Kindle 2 can’t be made in the U.S.  Its flex circuit connector is made in China; its electrophoretic display is made in Taiwan; its highly polished injection-molded case is made in China; its wireless card is made in South Korea; its lithium polymer battery is made in China, and its controller board is made in China.  In every case, the specialized expertise to manufacture these parts migrated out of the U.S. at some point in the recent past.

Despite the media’s nay-saying, all is not lost.  The U.S. still has the world’s largest output of manufactured goods and there are positive signs.  But there is a real danger of losing our advanced manufacturing sectors if companies continue to outsource our industrial commons to our eager friends and competitors.

How do we stem the loss and begin to rebuild our design and manufacturing expertise?  I’ll summarize Pisano and Shih’s recommendations for government policy and corporate policy in the next blog.  I also plan to share some exciting work that is happening in Northwest Florida, linking up the education sector to that region’s industrial commons.

In the meantime, let us know if you’re seeing substantive work on linking education to the economic drivers of innovation in your region.

To the future!

Hans

Education, Workforce, Business and Innovation

December 1, 2009

Welcome to Meeder Mind Works – a blog dedicated to discussing how the education sector can better connect to the innovation economy.

I’ll be reflecting on ideas and issues that emerge from my consulting work and government policy background in education and workforce policy, with a primary focus on strengthening the connection between education and high-skilled employment.  Through this blog, I would like to create a space for conversation about the ways business can and should be involved in education.  Where can business add real value and where should the boundaries be between the role of business and the responsibility of educators?

Additionally, I want to look more closely at local programmatic connections. How can business help shape specific career-related programs at the high school, community college and university levels?

And importantly, how are these connections framed so that students emerge into real careers with the knowledge, skills and attributes needed to succeed personally in the workforce and also contribute to the economic success in their communities?  As the U.S. economy faces significant upheaval, we absolutely must ensure our education and training resources are well targeted at the core skills foundational to high-value innovation.

Unlike my newsletters of the past, this forum is meant to be a conversation – particularly one in which we share ideas, research findings, and areas for further investigation.

So, beginning in a few days, I’ll post my first item of substance, looking at the concept of the “Innovation Sector” and the “Industrial Commons.”  Please bookmark this site and send it along to your friends and colleagues!

I look forward to embarking on this journey together.

Hans Meeder