Think of all the politico-administrative stupidities in the past four decades, and it’d be hard to ignore these three idiotic developments in schooling and job preparation: (1) the destruction across most (if not all) States of the secondary technical high school; (2) the one-direction-fits-all of everyone going to university, and (3) the diversity-destroying 1980s ‘unified National System’ imposed on tertiary education & training.
Boys and young men severely disadvantaged in job-linked secondary schooling; vocational training dissed for not being ‘uni’; the shameful TAFE chaos and collapse; and the farcical situation where the nation has thousands of unemployed young men (many of whom seen as ‘unemployable’) at the very same time that businesses can’t find Australians with trades skills & experience and having to import foreigners to fill their rosters.
Talk about the ‘perfect storm’ - this is close to being the ‘perfect fubar’.
But this US experience may have something of an answer or two . . .
“More Companies Teach Workers What Colleges Don’t”
March 22, 2018, 10:00am ET
“At Schweitzer Engineering Laboratories in Pullman, Washington, workers take classes in algebra, physics and writing in the factory complex and can check out books from a company library. AT & T is investing more than $US1 billion ($1.3bn) to retrain over 100,000 workers through a patchwork of classes and programs that are helping them retool the Dallas-based company. And Atlanta-based aluminium-products maker Novelis started a school within the company to impart lessons pulled from the factory floor with a faculty and nine ‘deans’ to oversee it.
“Why? A new engineering graduate hired by Novelis took five years to get up to speed, says Joanne McInnerney, the company’s vice-president for human resources in North America. ‘We had to shorten that time to about two years.’ Federal policy for decades has pushed more people to go to four-year colleges, promoting a college-preparatory high-school curriculum and easing access to student loans. But technology is changing faster than colleges can keep up and employers say too many schools aren’t teaching students the skills they need — or even basic critical thinking.
“With the labour market the tightest it has been in a generation, this misalignment is causing big — and expensive — headaches for employers. So companies are increasingly taking matters into their own hands. Major employers IBM, Aon and JPMorgan Chase & Co are hiring workers because of what they can do, or what the companies believes they can teach them, instead of the degrees they hold.
“A host of states and the federal government are looking at alternative paths from high school to work. The trend is ¬siphoning off students who might otherwise go to a four-year college, exacerbating a process that is splitting colleges into winners and losers. ‘Right now a four-year program is where many students head by default,’ says Joseph Fuller, a Harvard Business School professor who has studied degree inflation. Manufacturing, technology and healthcare industries are moving fastest to focus on skills over degrees because they are struggling the most to fill jobs.
“Novelis faced the problem seven years ago when automakers ramped up their use of aluminium and the company realised it would have to rev up production. It set up an experimental school that it eventually rolled out across the company, which has more than 11,500 employees in 24 facilities. The school has helped create a workplace where credentials have become less important. The first plant supervisor without a college degree is expected to be promoted shortly.
“ ‘Some employers have encouraged reliance on bachelor degrees as a proxy for skills by requiring a diploma for jobs that didn’t previously require one’, Fuller says. ‘But such degree requirements are limiting the number of applicants for a job and increasing costs for companies and employees. They also lead to frustration for workers, since fewer than half of people who enrol in college end up graduating and landing a job that uses their degree,’ he says.
In Pullman, Roy Edwards dropped out of college amid frustration over learning only from books. But when he landed an entry-level job at Schweitzer, he felt he had found a place where he could really learn. ‘All around me stuff was happening,’ he says. ‘There was opportunity where you could learn and grow and be a part of the company.’ Eight years later, Edwards still doesn’t have a college degree but he has learned enough about programming robots to supervise people who do.
“Stories like his are the result of the founder’s vision. Ed Schweitzer was a professor of electrical engineering when he started the company in his basement in 1984, and was well aware of strengths and weaknesses in the higher education system. The company, which makes equipment for the global power industry, grew rapidly. It now has 5200 employees and annual revenue of nearly $US1bn. Until recently, Schweitzer was involved in all the hiring decisions, presenting every engineer who wanted a job with a problem to solve. ‘The experience,’ he said, ‘made him wonder if some universities needed to have a degree recall program, because sometimes (the schools) are shipping defective products’.
“Schweitzer prioritises education at the company, creating an atmosphere where assemblers regularly rise up to technicians and work alongside engineers. ‘If Thomas Edison walked through the door today, would we turn him away because we don’t have a job opening for an inventor?’ says Schweitzer, whose father dropped out of college but went on to hold 100 patents. Edwards has taken advantage of the classes the company offers and taken out books from the company library on coding and robotics. ‘When you have a very specific problem that you have to solve, that to me is very motivating,’ he says. ‘It kicks me into gear to do all the research I need to do’.”
WALL STREET JOURNAL
[Some minor re-paragraphing and punctuation adjustments]
*Leonard Colquhoun worked as a teacher of English (language & literature), History (Asian, Greek & Roman, and Renaissance & Reformation), and Latin up to HSC in two States, two countries and three secondary curriculums across four decades. Best ‘other subject’ was middle secondary technical drawing & solid geometry. Most fulfilling classroom subjects: annually re-visiting ‘Julius Caesar’, ‘Macbeth’ and ‘Romeo and Juliet’, with something new each year; best uni course: Melbourne’s 1960s History & Philosophy of Science (and every fellow met concurs). Nearly all that time he was a member of each relevant teacher union (and still is).