Academic Advice to Congress

, Malcolm A. Kline, Leave a comment

An academic has recommended a plan of action for the new U. S. Congress that is actually partly grounded in reality.

In her book, Closing America’s Job Gap, Mary Walshok, a sociologist at the University of California’s San Diego campus, recommends that Congress:

1. Encourage Start-Ups. Congress needs to create and keep good jobs in America by supporting innovative start-up companies that create jobs and provide incentives for retraining people to be qualified for new technologies.

2. Bottom Up, Not Top Down. Rather than federal top-down strategies for job creation, evidence from across America indicates the time has come for a bottom-up approach that harnesses the wisdom of local communities. The federal government needs to invest regionally in the kinds of collaborations that are already producing good jobs in high tech, biotech and clean tech, for which specialized training may be needed.

3. Tax Incentives for Training and Tuition Assistance Programs. Investment in employee training is rising but could use a boost. According to the University and Professional Continuing Education Association, employers want to increase their investment in employee education, a clear recognition that they need a highly skilled workforce to remain competitive. The government should provide incentives.

4. Tax Incentives for Time Off for Continuing Education. One roadblock to “reskilling” is that many employees find it difficult to pursue continuing education while balancing work and family obligations. Employers should offer flexible, convenient educational options to help increase participation. Tax incentives for doing so would go a long way.

5. Support Regional Business Clusters. In today’s environment, regions need to be thinking about the industry clusters that can harness their assets to grow innovative new enterprises that can contribute to job creation. Central governments in advanced countries have launched numerous programs to promote growth-producing collaboration in key industry clusters. In fact, 26 of 31 European Union countries have cluster initiative programs, as do Japan and Korea. The United States needs cluster strategies that include provisions for workforce development.

6. Assemble the Right Team. Federal programs should maximize the resources provided for regional collaboration. Bring together the four key players in economic growth: the research community; the entrepreneurs and investors; the economic development associations; and the educators and workforce training organizations.

7. Help Adults, Not Just Kids. Congress needs to include adult learners in their education plans, not merely undergraduates and graduate students. Many members of Congress believe that an undergraduate or advanced degree will provide the knowledge and skills sufficient for a professional career spanning several decades. In today’s world that is no longer true. Expanding on the job training and lifelong learning options are critical.

8. Think Globally. Congress needs to stimulate training programs to assure Americans have a clear sense of the enormous effects of globalization and new technologies on all industries and all workers and what they must do to be competitive. Six out of 10 university students believe their education has not prepared them to address these issues, according to a 2010 IBM survey of 3,600 students.

9. Invest in the Skilled Trades. The United States is not investing as much money and time in technical skills development as other nations. Examples of skilled jobs include: electricians, carpenters, plumbers and welders. Shortages of skilled workers are acute in many of the world’s biggest economies, including the United States and Canada, where employers ranked skilled trades as their number one or number two hiring challenge, according to Manpower’s 2010 Talent Shortage Survey.

10. Time for an Upgrade. Congress should help American employers invest in upgrading their workers’ skills at the levels most European and Asian employers do. U.S. companies have fallen to eighth place for investments in training and employee development, as ranked by the World Economic Forum.

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Of course, she can’t quite bring herself to use the phrase tax cut, hence it is an incentive. Moreover, like liberals since the Clinton years, she is skittish about calling for increased government spending, preferring the term “investments.”

Malcolm A. Kline is the Executive Director of Accuracy in Academia.

If you would like to comment on this article, e-mail mal.kline@academia.org

 

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