The Skills Gap

Excerpts from Mike Rowe’s Testimony Before the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation

I believe we need a national PR Campaign for Skilled Labor. A big one. Something that addresses the widening skills gap head on, and reconnects the country with the most important part of our workforce.

Right now, American manufacturing is struggling to fill 200,000 vacant positions. There are 450,000 openings in trades, transportation and utilities. The skills gap is real, and it’s getting wider …

In high schools, the vocational arts have all but vanished. We’ve elevated the importance of “higher education” to such a lofty perch that all other forms of knowledge are now labeled “alternative.” Millions of parents and kids see apprenticeships and on-the-job-training opportunities as “vocational consolation prizes,” best suited for those not cut out for a four-year degree. And still, we talk about millions of “shovel ready” jobs for a society that doesn’t encourage people to pick up a shovel …

In a hundred different ways, we have slowly marginalized an entire category of critical professions, reshaping our expectations of a “good job” into something that no longer looks like work. A few years from now, an hour with a good plumber – if you can find one – is going to cost more than an hour with a good psychiatrist. At which point we’ll all be in need of both …

The skills gap is a reflection of what we value. To close the gap, we need to change the way the country feels about work.

It’s worth reading the entire speech here.

Learning and Working in the Collaborative Age

Very interesting video (well worth 10 minutes) from Randy Nelson of Pixar University. In it he describes how to determine if graduates have the skills for 21st century employment:

Pixar harnesses the principles of improv:
1) accept every offer (because every offer can go one of two ways: somewhere, or nowhere – which is better?)
2) make your partner look good (true collaboration)

raises the question of depth based hiring …
-how to hire? most interesting jobs involve doing something that’s never been done before
-need something to determine future success … need a parallel/predictor of success of failure recovery, resilience, adaptability:
What are those predictors?
-mastery in previous activity is a good predictor of mastery in a new activity (proof in the portfolio vs promise in the resume)
-someone who is more interested than interesting
-involves translation; it’s a destination, not a source
-requires outside affirmation from someone saying “I understand”
4) (most important of all) COLLABORATION:
-NOT simple cooperation – that matters, but a cooperative enterprise (รก la assembly line) is not optimized by people working together
-must in result amplification – people interested and listening to each other to create something new and better

I find this fourth the most interesting: how many activities do we assign students with the label “collaborative” when in fact, we are just asking them to cooperate?