More and more citizens’ life happenings are outside of their control, arranged by bureaucracies. That is an important thought to consider as we look at a continuously declining public education system that has degraded over the last 50 years. And what is the result to the national industrial base and citizens’ collective future? 

My contention is that public education does not focus on results. Without that, the citizenry is unable to hold government-controlled school systems accountable. This is abetted by education lobbies (teacher unions, local bureaucrats, legislators) that maintain vested interests. 

Looking back, interest in public education grew after the Civil War, but only 57% of students went to public schools and only 2% were in ninth grade or higher. Public schools increased their share of students to 90% by 1890, and that is when the “progressive movement” began active interest in education. This focus has grown, and many groups across the political spectrum have looked to public schools as a key avenue for accomplishing political and social objectives such as environmental awareness and partisan politics. 

To enhance their position, “education experts” have increased teacher numbers, teacher-pupil ratios and caused an explosion in school funding. The average salary of public school teachers rose 45% more than other job categories in the last four decades of the 20th century. However, mediocre teachers have dominated unions and the legions of education lobbyists in Washington and state capitols have increased over the last 40 years. And, with this rise to power, parents have become more of a bothersome nuisance than a force. The bottom line is that teaching students the 3Rs and “how to think” has diminished in importance compared to selling politically desired social philosophies.  

Independent assessments have found that student abilities to understand technical materials, literary essays and historical documents has declined since 1971. Only 6% of 11th graders can solve multi-step math problems, one-third of high-school students really need remedial help. All of this is of utmost importance to readers and American industry. What do you do when it is difficult to find competent, educated employees?  

All of the following thoughts must be taken in context and exclude the effects of the coronavirus. It is estimated that the global talent shortage could reach 85.2 million by 2030, costing trillions in lost income opportunities. Manufacturing will face a 7.9 million employee deficit, resulting in lost revenues of $607.1 billion. Manufacturing, as an essential part of U.S. gross domestic product, drove 11.3% of national economic output because goods sold are half of exports

Every dollar spent in manufacturing adds $2.74 to the economy, including retail, transportation and business services. The 12.69 million U.S. manufacturing jobs were 7.9% of the total American workforce in 2018, and it is projected that 89% of manufacturers today leave jobs unfilled due to lack of qualified applicants. The skills gap could leave 2.4 million more vacant by 2028 and cost industry $454 billion in eight years.  

Think of it this way: manufacturing was the largest segment of the U.S. economy in 1970 (24.3% of GDP), or double what it was last year. Add to this diminishment the fact that many federal regulatory policies decrease U.S. competitiveness – estimated to cost $180.5 billion a decade ago, or 11% of total sales. 

Things are actually going the wrong way, boys and girls, thanks to the continuing effects of poor and declining skill sets among the labor force, which has been largely brought on by a lessened quality of public education. What to do about all of it is a question that must be answered but is very hard to address. 

There are programs currently offered by some colleges that are designed to teach and certify competency-based skill-sets assessment. That costs money for the student, school and/or industrial sponsor willing to be a participant. It is a catch-up process but has value when other avenues are not available. This certification pathway is positive because it spurs the possible employee of tomorrow to get a grip and change a failure into an avenue of possibility. I suggest that industry management spend some time at high schools and colleges to encourage students to focus on school work and avail themselves of opportunities to truly prepare for work.

Next time we will talk about losing jobs … and how robots will take them.