It’s Time for the U.S. to Reskill on the Basics

Human Resources
by Guest Columnist

By Ryan M. Frischmann

In a recent survey, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) asked the question: “Is it time for the U.S. to reskill?” and the answer was a resounding “yes.” Ryan M. Frischmann, author of A Skills-Based Approach to Developing a Career, has more on the problem.

Basic skills (literacy, numeracy, and problem solving) matter, and we need to invest in an infrastructure that transcends across high school, higher education, and professional and career development to achieve higher level competencies. Using skills as a language to bridge learning expectations across education and career stages has been something I have proposed for a while now and one of the central premises behind the Skills-Based Approach.

The survey has many interesting distinctions regarding reskilling our workforce. Here are a few of them:

Sixty-three percent of low-skilled adults in the U.S. are employed. So job training and learning is possible, and there are proper incentives to do so (reward for basic skills is higher in the U.S. than in other countries) and “an intervention should yield lifetime returns.”

Whenever possible, employers must invest in learning and career development programs for their workers; employers have the resources (funding), captive audience (workers), and applied knowledge (mentors) to do so. In addition, employers should take preemptive action with education institutions and the community to support building skills needed for their future workforce.

The U.S. lags on both tails of basics skills measurement—a higher rate for low basic skills and lower rate for high basic skills. For example, on the low end, one in three adults have weak numeracy skills in this U.S. compared to one in five for the cross country average. And, on the high end, 8% of adults scored the highest level in the U.S. compared to a 13% cross-country average.

The U.S. has a large, diverse population. Immigrants represent a large portion of the low basic skill adults, so low literacy rates are expected. But still, with such varying results across countries, education systems and learning cultures do influence the outcome of acquiring basic skills.

There are reasons why Finland, Japan, and Germany score higher on standardized tests like Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA). Perhaps the applied learning and apprenticeships Europe has fostered for the past hundreds of years makes sense. Here in the U.S., we are now seeing growth in this type of learning as an alternative to higher education programs.

In my personal experience, while attending an MBA program where about 50% of the students were from other countries, I noticed stark contrasts in learning approaches. Many of the students from Asian countries (including India) demonstrated strong quantitative skills and took a methodical approach to their learning.

In tomorrow’s Advisor, Frishmann presents seven policies that can help the United States bring basic skills to a higher level.

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