Public, business, education, and labor leaders are on the frontlines of the nation’s economic revival. Public policies come together with business strategies and workers’ knowledge, skills, and abilities at the state and regional level to encourage business growth, create jobs, and educate workers.
The last of these three areas, educating workers, may be the most important investment we can make for America’s long-term success in the global innovation economy. No less an expert than Nobel Laureate economist Gary Becker has stated that “the stock of education, training, skills and even the health of people constitutes about 75% of the wealth of a modern economy. Not diamonds, buildings or oil but things that we carry in our heads.”
More specifically, in the global innovation economy America must compete in, the skills required for national competitiveness and individual success are both ratcheting up—with one year of postsecondary education the bare minimum—and evolving into a mix of book learning, experience, and creativity. This new mix of skills will apply in every sector of the economy—clean energy, nanotech, biotech, and health care—as firms create new business models and redesign work practices to compete effectively. Providing learning experiences that deliver this skills mix will require a postsecondary education system that combines the flexibility and labor-market focus of the nation’s workforcetraining programs with the educational rigor of our colleges and universities.
To achieve this hybrid system of book learning and experience, public, business, education, and labor leaders must work together to ensure that we create public policy that incents training and education programs—whether they be provided by community colleges, universities, community-based organizations, vocational schools, unions, or employers—to complement each other in ways that ensure students get the skills they need as quickly and efficiently as possible. In other words, we need to connect the dots among these various programs to ensure quality education and good use of public and private investment.
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