ECON: Lack of skilled people in the USA

From: Max More (
Date: Tue Jan 30 2001 - 18:14:40 MST

Nothing that most of us don't already know, but here's a scary set of
facts, considering the importance to us of continued and accelerated
technical change:

If competitive success is achieved through people, then the skills of those
people are critical. Consequently, one of the most obvious implications of
the changing basis of competitive success is the growing importance of
having a work force with adequate skills. Historical studies show that
between 1929 and 1982, education prior to work accounted for 26% of the
growth in the productive capacity of the United States, with learning on
the job contributing to an additional 55%. It seems clear that "learning in
school and learning on the job are by far the most important factors behind
American economic growth and productivity in this century, and will
determine the nation's economic prospects in the next."(33) The evidence,
however, is that skill problems in the U.S. work force are widespread and

Moreover, there is little evidence that U.S. employers, for the most part,
are doing what is required to address this problem. Regarding the first
point, the skill problem, an overview of training and preparation for work
concluded, "As we approach the end of this century, it becomes ever more
apparent that the demand for more skilled workers is on a collision course
with the quantity and quality of the labor supply."(34) In an article
reporting the declining position of the United States in world trade in
telecommunications equipment, the New York Telephone Company reported that
"it tested 57,000 job applicants in 1987 and found that 54,900, or 96.3%
lacked basic skills in math, reading, and reasoning."(35) A human resource
planning document prepared at the Bank of America in 1990 reported that
"Chemical Bank in New York must interview 40 applicants to find one who can
be successfully trained as a teller";(36) "at Pacific Bell in Los Angeles,
95% of the 3,500 people who recently took a competency test for entry-level
jobs not requiring a high school education failed"; and "at Motorola, 80%
of its applicants cannot pass a simple 7th grade English comprehension or
5th grade math test. At Bell South in Atlanta, fewer than 1 in 10
applicants meet all qualification standards."(37)

A U.S. Department of Education report covering document, prose, and
quantitative literacy summarized the findings of a study mandated by
Congress because of its concern about skill deficiencies in the work place
and came to equally grim conclusions.(38) For instance, in 1986, only about
50% of all high school graduates achieved literacy at a level that would
enable them to follow directions to travel from one location to another
using a map, and only 10% of the graduates could use a bus schedule to
select the appropriate bus for given departures and arrivals.(39) Only 3%
of high school graduates could orally interpret distinctions between types
of employee benefits, and just 4.5% could estimate cost using grocery
unit-price labels.(40) Assessments of mathematical proficiency are also
distressing.(41) Almost one-quarter of high school seniors could not
accurately determine the cost of a simple meal from a short menu of items
and prices,(42) and fewer than half "demonstrated a consistent grasp of
decimals, percents, fractions, and simple algebra."(43)


Max More, or
President, Extropy Institute.
Senior Content Architect, ManyWorlds Inc.:

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