Failure is not always a bad word. Think about it: Everyone has had an experience where they did not achieve a goal but used that experience to find another way to reach their destination.
Innovation and entrepreneurship often spring from setbacks. And in our increasingly complex and changing global economy, we need to ensure that our education system is helping young people develop these skills.
As the school year ends, we must not only celebrate the accomplishments of our graduates. We must also ask if they have the skills required for the jobs that await them.
Three out of four executives surveyed in 2010 believe soft skills — communication, collaboration and critical thinking — will become even more important in a fast-moving international marketplace. Nine in 10 of those executives said enhanced soft skills are key to supporting business expansion, but less than half of them rated their employees as above average in those skills.
In almost any field, increased skill levels are needed. Take manufacturing, like we do at Hussey Seating: Where once learning a few specific technical roles was sufficient, an employee now must use logic, troubleshooting and spatial visualization on a daily basis. Where once ability to follow fixed procedures was all that was needed, today we reward initiative and persistence. While following orders once got you by, employers now require the ability to make independent decisions.
From our experience, nothing is more frustrating than watching a high-paid job go unfilled because we cannot find a Maine worker with the requisite skills.
So what is the outlook in Maine? Experts predict that almost nine of every 10 new jobs created here between 2008 and 2018 will require some type of formal education beyond high school. A recent analysis projects 26,000 new high-wage and growth jobs in our state over 10 years. Significant “skills gaps” are forecast because of Maine’s mismatch between worker skills and labor demand. For example, the report predicts a shortage of 1,500 workers in the information and computer technology fields; more than 1,000 unfilled machinist positions; and a total of 4,000 high-wage jobs going unfilled over the next decade.
So are we educating our young people to meet these rising requirements for future jobs? In Maine, more than 20 percent of high school students fail to graduate on time. In both math and reading, 61 percent of our eighth-graders are below grade level.
Nationally, the picture is not any better. According to the business leaders organization America’s Edge, the U.S. high school graduation rate ranks in the bottom third of developed nations. On an international test of applied knowledge and skills, U.S. 15-year-olds score significantly below the average for industrialized nations in math and trail far behind leading countries like Korea, Japan and Finland in reading and science. Once a leader in math education, U.S. teenagers now fall in the bottom half of students from developed countries.
The U.S. does not belong in the middle of the pack. So how best can we implement education approaches that will not only increase proficiencies in core academic subjects, but also develop a work force of communicators, collaborators and critical thinkers?
Many U.S. high schools are integrating technical training with a rigorous academic curriculum to bring relevance into the classroom. In this model, groups of students take classes together for at least two years and are taught by the same group of teachers. Students are provided with college preparatory curriculum based on a career theme that helps them see connections between academic subjects and the real world. Partnerships are developed with local employers who provide work-based learning opportunities like internships and job shadowing. And through collaboration and real work experience, students can better understand the importance of professionalism, reliability and communications skills.
We are not saying kids must fail to succeed. But we should not be afraid to push students in new directions and allow them to think outside the box — even if to do so results in some bumps along the way.
Maine and our nation are now focused on reforming our education system, and that reform should include steps to improve more than just academic outcomes. It must also include reforms that teach our young people — our future work force — to learn. That is our graduation “wish” for every Maine student who walks across a stage in the coming weeks to receive a diploma. Armed with that diploma and these skills, they can help Maine’s businesses, economy and communities excel.
Tim Hussey is CEO and president of Hussey Seating, and Robert Moore is president and chairman of Dead River Co.