Fred D'Ignazio, Associate Editor
Training For Tomorrow's Jobs: High-Tech Skills And Beyond
The reindustrialization of the United States is underway. The U.S. economy is rapidly modernizing its smokestack industries and converting them to futuristic, high-tech companies. High-tech tools-including robots, computers, office automation, and telecommunications-are steadily becoming part of the daily working environment in most U.S. companies. According to a recent issue of the Kiplinger Washington Letter, "Even old-line manufacturers are becoming hightech companies, using computers to orchestrate what goes on where and when in their plants. Formerly machines replaced brawn. Now they replace brains or skilled help."
For instance, in Rochester, Michigan, just east of Pontiac, older companies are swiftly going high tech. Electronic Data Systems, recently acquired by General Motors, is transferring operations to Rochester. Chrysler Labs is expanding its operations. And a multimilliondollar high-tech industrial park is under construction.
That means new jobs are opening up in Rochester. But are Rochester's schoolchildren receiving the training they'll need for these jobs?
Rochester already has more computers in its schools, per capita, than any other city in the country. However, according to Dr. Anne Porter Jaworski, a teacher at Rochester's Oakland University, "Training on computers and other hightech machines will not guarantee future jobs for our children. We must also teach our children higher-level thinking and communications skills. By the time they become adults, all other skills will be automated, and the jobs will be done by machines."
Jaworski's Canadian colleague, Craig Stirton, a former schoolteacher, agrees: "I've talked with executives from several large companies. They are seriously worried about the kinds of skills young people have when they leave school. The companies have been forced to supplement their new employees' formal schooling with creativethinking and communication-skill seminars. I think it's time children began learning these skills as part of their basic education."
In Tennessee, General Motors is building what may become the largest high-tech industrial complex in the world. Known as the Saturn Project (after the Saturn, GM's car of the future), it will give a major boost to the Tennessee economy and employ thousands of workers. Tennessee hopes that the Saturn workforce will be drawn from people already living in Tennessee. But according to William D. Hoglund, Saturn's president, applicants must pass a rigid test. They must be competent in language and math, in computer and other hightech skills, and they must be "risk takers" and demonstrate "a commitment to creative change and growth, and lifelong learning."
Anticipating GM's and other corporations' new human resource needs, Tennessee Governor Lamar Alexander initiated a statewide Better Schools program in 1984, funded by a one-cent sales tax. Through this program, Alexander and the state board of education are revamping the curriculum in Tennessee's schools. Children who graduate from high school in coming years will have a solid foundation in ten different areas, including the basics (reading, writing, arithmetic), computers, and other job-related skills, such as accounting, telecommunications, and engineering.
Dr. James Kelley of Tennessee's Department of Education is confident that public schools can provide the training young people need to meet Saturn's challenge. Stirton and Jaworski agree. "In Tennessee," Kelley says, "we are putting renewed emphasis on highlevel thinking skills as part of present subject areas like math and reading."
Engrossed In Learning
In Michigan, Stirton and Jaworski have designed a learning program, called a "transformational environment," that would focus on these high-level skills beginning with elementary school pupils. According to Stirton, "We want a place where children would be so engrossed in their activities that they would become oblivious to everything around them."
"This kind of peak experience is common to hobbies," adds Jaworski, "but I don't see why it couldn't happen in school." It could be part of an activity center in a classroom or a special class during the day or after school, she explains. "The energy released would be tremendous. Children would feel exhilarated by doing something they defined as a goal for themselves. Many teachers are already doing this. We should all be communicating together, and we need support from parents."
To get in touch with Stirton and Jaworski, write: Craig Stirton, 6275 Atherly Crescent, Mississau ga, Ontario, Canada L5N 2J1 (his CompuServe I.D. is 72777,1054); or Dr. Anne Porter Jaworski, School of Human and Educational Services, Oakland University, Rochester, MI 48063. To learn more about Tennessee's Better Schools program, write Dr. James Kelley, Assistant Commissioner for General Education, Tennessee Department of Education, Suite 200, Cordell Hull Building, Nashville, TN 37219.