Closing the skills gap

Photo skilled worker
Many countries are facing a shortage of skilled workers.

THURSDAY, 24 May 2007, was Learning at Work Day in England, an annual awareness campaign that promotes workplace-learning events.

Learning at Work Day was started in 1999 as part of Adult Learners' Week to draw attention to the importance of workplace learning in closing the skills gap. Each year, thousands of organizations sponsor fun activities to help their staffs learn business-related skills.

Lord Leitch, in a special report of the National Employment Panel, said, "Despite recent improvement, there is consensus that we need to be much more ambitious and a clear message that the UK must raise its game."

Gordon Brown: vocational training a central issue.

The report stated that more than a third of adults of working age lacked a basic qualification for leaving school. Five million adults had no qualifications at all. One in six adults did not have the literacy skills expected of an 11-year old, and half did not have that level of functional math.

In May, Gordon Brown, England's soon-to-be Prime Minister pledged new vocational programs to keep teenagers in school. He wants to see teenagers who are behind given personal mentors and allowed to spend a day a week out of the classroom training for jobs. Next year, the government will introduce new vocational diplomas for 14-to-19-year olds. The new diplomas, developed jointly by the U.K. Department for Education and Skills and industry, will be a blend of general education and work-related study in a special subject. English, math, and technical skills will be core components of each diploma.

America's Perfect Storm

The U.K. is not the only country facing a skills gap. The Conference Board of Canada ranks the education and skills of the top-12 western nations like this:

Education and Skill Indicators
1. Finland
2. Norway
2. Sweden
4. Canada
5. Denmark
6. United Kingdom
7. New Zealand
7. Australia
9. United States
10. Ireland
10. Germany
10. Switzerland

For the last twenty years in the U.S., there was decline in factory jobs and constraints in school-budgets. Vocational training almost disappeared in many areas.

Vocational training in China: 27 million enrolled in 200,000 vocational programs.

Much of the American education is still bogged down with outdated curricula promoted by textbook publishers and other bureaucracies. High schools are prized for their ability to place candidates in 4-year colleges and not career education. As a result, a full third of students drop out as soon as they can—without preparation for any career.

In 2001, the American Management Association reported that 34% of job applicants lack required basic skills.

The Community Service Society of New York recently reported that nearly 170,000 New York City residents ages 16 to 24 are "socially disconnected"—not in school, not employed, and not seeking work.

A report from the Educational Testing Service, America's Perfect Storm: Three Forces Changing Our Nation's Future, looks at three powerful forces that are emerging in the U.S.:

Large numbers do not have the reading and math skills needed in an increasingly competitive workplace, large bureaucratic institutions, and complex legal, health care, and retirement systems.

Connecting School with Work

California students in a career-education program: for many, a better path to language and math.

Because the manufacturing sector is slowly recovering, the demand for skilled workers is rapidly rising. Vocational training is no longer seen as a second-best education path. Some states are re-inventing and beefing up their technical-training programs.

California is home to one-in-nine U.S. students. Last year, Governor Schwarzenneger—a product of Austria's vocational training—steered $100 million into new technical-education programs. President Bush also signed a law that boosted to $1.3 billion for technical education in high schools and community colleges. The same year, U.S. enrollment in vocational-training programs rose to an all-time high of 15 million.

This April, David Brewer, the new Superintendent of Los Angeles Unified School District, pledged a new future for "career technical education." The school district already operates 11 Skills Centers and 70 special career academies (schools within schools). In the last nine months, the district approved of 179 "small schools," learning communities with career-related themes.

By practicing useful skills, students make a link between school and what they could be earning in the real world. For a teenager who might otherwise be bored and ready to drop out of school, this connection can be a powerful motivator to stay and study.

Japan's Expertise in Vocational Training

Vocational training for Persons with Disabilities in Myanmar (Burma) operated by Japan's Association for Aid and Relief.

Japan has long been recognized as a leader in vocational training, which begins in their elementary schools. After the 9th grade, students who don't make it into university can choose a technical path in one of these different environments:

Junior colleges and universities feature more advanced technical training as well as research. Today, Japan exports its expertise in vocational training as foreign aid to developing countries.

For an introduction to Japan's educational system, go to:

Self-Study Course for Adult Educators

Adult literacy expert
Tom Sticht

EACH year many people start work in adult education and literacy development without much background in the field. Others who have worked in the field for a while may wish to deepen their knowledge. Tom Sticht has developed a free online course on Adult Education and Literacy in the United States for self-study. The course is built on 12 reports of Sticht's on adult literacy, also available for free online. Reading one report a week will provide a one-semester, 12-week course of self-study. To access the course, go to: http://wiki.literacytent.org/images/b/bd/StichtSyllabus07.pdf

Badly designed ballots spoil Scotch election

IN the first week of May, badly designed ballots caused a scandalous upset in Scottish elections. Martin Cutts of the Plain Language Commission reports: "Epithets such as scandal, fiasco, national humiliation, and catastrophe have been hurled after 1-in-20 ballots (perhaps 100,000) were rejected as 'spoiled' in the elections. The event evokes memories of the Palm Beach County debacle that saw George W. Bush elected to the White House in 2000.

"The Scottish National party won the election by only a single seat from the Scottish Labour party—which has been in power in Scotland for 50 years. The huge number of spoiled ballots almost certainly means that the country will get a government it doesn't want. In several constituencies, the wrong people have been elected. Legal challenges are expected."

For more information, go to: http://tinyurl.com/3okbl2m

Plain Language in the News

New rules for Federal Courts win award:

Financial report too difficult for readers:

CEO pay disclosures difficult as academic texts: http://tinyurl.com/3sxn2wf

Bishop attacks accessibility of new liturgy:

Plain-language help for city councils in the UK: http://society.guardian.co.uk/localgovt/story/0,,2079981,00.html

Lord Greaves attacks "council-speak": http://tinyurl.com/3ob4pjh

Poverty, illiteracy still linked: