Today’s students are confronted by four major forces which will drive both opportunities and challenges for their careers:
- Demographics Baby boomers leaving the workforce are creating a large void. For example, 43% of PG&E’s linemen will become eligible for retirement in the next five years. The same trend applies for many industries, with health care (nurses in particular) being the most frequently discussed.
- Sustainability Renewable energy and integrity of the environment are often cited as the 21st Century’s global imperatives. A vast infusion of talent is required to meet these challenges, with many career fields yet to be fully defined.
- Global Competition Outsourcing of manufacturing jobs has been accompanied by a growing loss of innovation work to China, India, Eastern Europe, and others. US students are increasingly competing for jobs against better-educated talent pools overseas.
- Technology Many experts claim that today’s technologies are advancing at an exponential pace. The amount of new technical information is doubling every two years. For students starting a four-year technical or college degree program, this means that half of what they learn in their first year of study will be outdated by their third year of study.
The outlook for industry is alarming as the mix of career opportunities continues to favor more highly educated workers. Californians entering the workforce are expected to be heavily underqualified. For each year through 2025, California employers will need an average of 160,000 more college graduates than the state will produce or can be expected through in-migration. Over this same period, there will be an average annual surplus of 21,000 high school graduates entering the California workforce. These projections imply huge negative consequences for the future well-being of today’s students.
Across the nation, competition for job in the global market can be seen clearly in statistics about proficiency levels of high school students. Fifteen year-olds in the US placed 24th out of forty nations in their ability to apply mathematical concepts to real world problems2. A recent study commissioned by Congress reported that only 6.5% of US high school students annually take one or more advanced placement exam versus the 23% that is needed to be globally competitive. This study also recommended a goal of reaching the 23% level by 20103.
In testimony before the US Senate Bill Gates explained, “Our current expectations for what our students should learn in school were set fifty years ago to meet the needs of an economy based on manufacturing and agriculture. We now have an economy based on knowledge and technology. Despite the best efforts of many committed educators and administrators, our high schools have simply failed to adapt to this change. As any parent knows, however, our children have not—they are fully immersed in digital culture”.4
Businesses can be expected to adapt to a certain extent, tapping more highly educated talent pools offshore to fill their open positions. Service jobs that cannot be managed offshore – such as dentists, doctors, plumbers, and electricians – present a much more difficult set of employment gaps . Unabated, these trends lead to a significant decline in California’s economy and quality of life for its citizens.