Tag Archives: jobs

Where Did All the Jobs Go?

One reason we are in a jobless recovery is the poor quality of U.S. public schools. Schools fail everyone who cares about child development: employers cannot find qualified workers, and parents go into debt to pay the rent or mortgage in a good school district.

From How to Keep Jobs in America [PDF download]

From Why Outsource?

Something like ~25% of the reasons given in these surveys boil down to bad public schools.

America needs good public schools, which can be held accountable through good measures of student accomplishment. We don’t have them because teachers are scared of what life would be like if they were treated like professionals. This is too bad — if teachers do not embrace reform, we’ll end up with drones reading following idiot-proof scripts that put students in front of computers…

… which would still be better than the current system.

The Low Quality of the US Education System Destroys Jobs

Childcare is one of the dimensions of force in the education reform debate. The New York Times has an excellent story, How the U.S. Lost Out on iPhone work, that does a great job of emphasizing how the US educational system is failing the two stakeholders of childcare: employers and parents.

The US Public Education System Fails Employers

As the story’s authors, Charles Duhigg and Keith Badshet, make clear, the cost of labor is a small part of the cost of high-tech electronic goods. A much bigger concern is finding skilled workers, with “skilling” meaning anything from a technical degree after high school to a four-year engineering degree:

Companies like Apple “say the challenge in setting up U.S. plants is finding a technical work force,” said Martin Schmidt, associate provost at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In particular, companies say they need engineers with more than high school, but not necessarily a bachelor’s degree. Americans at that skill level are hard to find, executives contend. “They’re good jobs, but the country doesn’t have enough to feed the demand,” Mr. Schmidt said.

The story makes clear that America does not have enough skilled workers. Considering the high unemployment rate, it is sickening to read about factories moved overseas because they cannot find skilled workers here.

But such calculations are, in many respects, meaningless because building the iPhone in the United States would demand much more than hiring Americans — it would require transforming the national and global economies. Apple executives believe there simply aren’t enough American workers with the skills the company needs or factories with sufficient speed and flexibility. Other companies that work with Apple, like Corning, also say they must go abroad.

It is important that U.S. educators (teachers, administrators, and others) stop doing such a terrible job. They not only prevent their graduates from getting jobs on account of their shoddy education. They prevent their graduates from getting jobs on account of the shoddy educations of others.

A reply I sometimes hear is that companies like Apple should train workers themselves. Mark Safranski, a good friend of mien, wrote that “the specialized industrial skills that are required for production” should be taught by companies, at corporate expense, as part of the hiring process. The New York Times makes clear how foolish this position is: when schools produce workers that can’t work, this taxes corporations in both dollars and time.

It may or may not be wise to fund public education through taxes on large employers. But it is certainly foolish to produce an unskilled workforce that takes time to educate, and then be surprised that modern supply chains have passed you buy.

The US Public Education System Fails Parents

While companies are free to move production to other companies (or be outpaced by foreign companies that are already oversees), the “tax” of poor education for parents is more painful, because of more personal.

One of the victim’s of our inability to produce educated workers is Eric Saragoza, an engineer who was eventually laid off as middle-skills manufacturing jobs evaporated. Because there weren’t enough trained workers, this is the economy that the US public education system have given to Mr. Saragoza and his family:

Mr. Saragoza was too expensive for an unskilled position. He was also insufficiently credentialed for upper management. He was called into a small office in 2002 after a night shift, laid off and then escorted from the plant. He taught high school for a while, and then tried a return to technology. But Apple, which had helped anoint the region as “Silicon Valley North,” had by then converted much of the Elk Grove plant into an AppleCare call center, where new employees often earn $12 an hour.

There were employment prospects in Silicon Valley, but none of them panned out. “What they really want are 30-year-olds without children,” said Mr. Saragoza, who today is 48, and whose family now includes five of his own.

After a few months of looking for work, he started feeling desperate. Even teaching jobs had dried up. So he took a position with an electronics temp agency that had been hired by Apple to check returned iPhones and iPads before they were sent back to customers. Every day, Mr. Saragoza would drive to the building where he had once worked as an engineer, and for $10 an hour with no benefits, wipe thousands of glass screens and test audio ports by plugging in headphones.


Teachers are in it for the money. They are not any morally worse in that respect than publishers, who also want to redirect funds away from students toward themselves. But in the current education reform debate, only teachers are against improving the teaching profession in principle, because reforming the teaching profession would mean that we could hold bad teachers accountable (which means that some teachers will lose their jobs, and all teachers will have the pressure of doing a good job in order to be paid well).

The US education system hurts all Americans, even those who manage to escape the US education system with their ability to work intact. Not reforming the US education system does not only mean consigning millions of students to a sub-standard education: it means consigning tens of millions of American workers to joblessness.

No Careers for Americans (Flat Jobs, Steep Education)

‘What, Me Worry?’,” by Thomas Friedman, New York Times, 29 April 2005, http://www.nytimes.com/2005/04/29/opinion/29friedman.html (from Eschaton).

Friedman riffs on the “public schools are terrible” summit from early April.

One of America’s most important entrepreneurs recently gave a remarkable speech at a summit meeting of our nation’s governors. Bill Gates minced no words. “American high schools are obsolete,” he told the governors. “By obsolete, I don’t just mean that our high schools are broken, flawed and underfunded. … By obsolete, I mean that our high schools – even when they are working exactly as designed – cannot teach our kids what they need to know today.

“Training the work force of tomorrow with the high schools of today is like trying to teach kids about today’s computers on a 50-year-old mainframe. … Our high schools were designed 50 years ago to meet the needs of another age. Until we design them to meet the needs of the 21st century, we will keep limiting – even ruining – the lives of millions of Americans every year.”

Before noting political weakness before this threat, Tom summarizes

Let me translate Mr. Gates’s words: “If we don’t fix American education, I will not be able to hire your kids.” I consider that, well, kind of important.

Public Education is built to standardize American students. The fast are held back with the herd, the slow are glamorized for falling behind the herd, the herd itself just stumbles along. We need to do better. Larry Summers, President of Harvard and former Clinton Treasury Secretary, agrees

For the first time in our history, we are going to face competition from low-wage, high-human-capital communities, embedded within India, China and Asia,” President Lawrence Summers of Harvard told me. In order to thrive, “it will not be enough for us to just leave no child behind. We also have to make sure that many more young Americans can get as far ahead as their potential will take them. How we meet this challenge is what will define our nation’s political economy for the next several decades.”

Friedman’s closing words echo parts of other networkbased theories

Meeting this challenge requires a set of big ideas. If you want to grasp some of what is required, check out a smart new book by the strategists John Hagel III and John Seely Brown entitled “The Only Sustainable Edge.” They argue that comparative advantage today is moving faster than ever from structural factors, like natural resources, to how quickly a country builds its distinctive talents for innovation and entrepreneurship – the only sustainable edge.

India and China know they can’t just depend on low wages, so they are racing us to the top, not the bottom. Producing a comprehensive U.S. response – encompassing immigration, intellectual property law and educational policy – to focus on developing our talent in a flat world is a big idea worthy of a presidency. But it would also require Mr. Bush to do something he has never done: ask Americans to do something hard.

Friedman is arguing that flexible, individualized education is needed if a flexible, individualized world.

When Tom says the world is flat, he means that it uses peer-based networks like never before. Flexibility, not stability, is the watchword. There aren’t big industrial corporations with steady career ladders anymore. However, public education is steep, not flat. America’s secondary education system is like a parody of a Japanese conglomerate — sit down, shut up, and eventually you’ll be at the top with the other old people.

This must change.