Wednesday, November 14

Millions of functionally illiterate Americans: one reason millions of good U.S. jobs go unfilled

"I would honestly say it's probably an entry level problem. It's those basic skill sets. Show up on time; you know -- read, write, do math, problem solve. I can't tell you how many people, even coming out of higher ed with degrees, who can't put a sentence together without a major grammatical error. It's a problem. If you can't do the resume properly to get the job, you can't come work for us. We're in the business of making fasteners that hold systems together that protect people in the air when they're flying. We're in the business of perfection."
-- Ryan Costella, Click Bond company, Nevada; from 60 Minutes interview (see below)

Another reason so many U.S. jobs go begging: an unholy union of banks, government and universities has sold Americans on the myth that they have to go into hock to get an education that provides a good-paying career path.

The myth has been crumbling under the onslaught of the U.S. economic downturn, as millions of college graduates have found themselves with no job and a mountain of student-loan debt. Many such graduates are shaking off the myth the hard way (H/T Belmont Club):
Then there’s Michael DiPietro, 25, of Brooklyn, who accumulated about $100,000 in debt while getting a bachelor’s degree in fashion, sculpture, and performance, and spent the next two years waiting tables. He has since landed a fundraising job in the arts but still has no idea how he will pay back all that money.

“I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s an obsolete idea that a college education is like your golden ticket,” DiPietro says. “It’s an idea that an older generation holds on to.”
Another myth is that all the good jobs in U.S. manufacturing have moved offshore.

Last Sunday's 60 Minutes challenged the myths in a segment called Three million open jobs in U.S., but who's qualified? You can watch the segment at the 60 Minutes website, which also posts the transcript for the segment.

This is not the first time 60 Minutes has made a yeoman attempt to haul American thinking about education into the 21st century, but it keeps running into the same concrete barrier and razor wire.

Underlying all the myths are a few ugly facts that serve as the barriers:

1. If large numbers of high school graduates head for technical schools and entry-level jobs in businesses that provide training in hi-tech occupations, this would throw many professors and college administrators out of work.

2. If universities lose their social cachet it would be harder for them to steer millions of American minds into politically correct thinking, which as we all know is key to harmonizing the USA with the International Community. 

3.  Foreign governments such as -- [furrowing her brow and thinking hard] such as the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia would find it harder to get more bang for their grant money in influencing what young American university students learn about.

4. With smaller university enrollments, companies that build spas, gyms, restaurants and multi-million dollar sports complexes for college campuses would find it harder to get universities to shell out for such student amenities.

5. If large numbers of functionally illiterate Americans in large northeastern cities and western cities such as Los Angeles become literate the Democratic Party would risk losing a big chunk of its voter base.

6. Banks that write student loans and credit card companies that live off perpetually broke college grads would see their profits take a big hit.

Of course nobody in banking, the Ivy Halls or Democratic Party headquarters sits up nights wondering how to prevent millions of Americans from becoming literate and taking rational paths to outfitting themselves for a career. But you know how it is, human nature being what it is: everybody is for progress until the progress threatens to overturn his own applecart.

Faced with that unpleasant prospect human nature tends to charge forward by sitting backward on the horsie.  So that's how you get solutions such as demanding the government make college education free.

Unfortunately or fortunately, depending on how you want to look at it, realities larger than people's applecarts eventually bulldoze the barriers.

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